Last week during a tense standoff in Lee County one of the teams that joined the crisis intervention came from the prison at nearby Fort Madison. The CERT team’s trained to deal with tense situations, according to prison spokesman Ron Walter. The Correctional Emergency Response Team was started in 1981 by then-warden Crispus Nix, a specially-trained correctional unit that’s similar to a police SWAT team. The team was formed after a prison riot at the penitentiary in 1981. He says they’re the prison’s “first line of defense” if there’s an “Institutional Insurrection” or if case of an escape, officers needed for a forced cell move, or a special transportation issue. While the team does offer its services to other law-enforcement agencies in southeast Iowa, it’s just for backup in emergencies. The team also shares equipment with other agencies when they need flak jackets, tear gas or other specialized gear. Walter says the Lee County sheriff’s department has come to help the prison team when it was needed over the years, and in turn CERT offers assistance to local law enforcement. Members of the CIRT team are state employees. He says they’re officers and supervisors in the corrections system, but this is their fulltime job — and they have to not only meet certain qualifications for strength and agility, they continue with training on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
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