Canadian Consulting Engineer

Detention Facilities: Security Blanket

August 1, 2012
By Nordahl Flakstad

With the Edmonton New Remand Centre, Alberta lays claim to Canada’s largest and most up-to-date detention facility.

With the Edmonton New Remand Centre, Alberta lays claim to Canada’s largest and most up-to-date detention facility.

On behalf of the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Alberta Infrastructure has overseen progress since construction manager Stuart Olson Dominion broke ground in 2007 at the 16-hectare site in northeast Edmonton. The $570-million, 59,511-m2 centre (ENRC) is due to open next April. Initially, it will house over 1,900 offenders, most awaiting trial or sentencing.

ENRC replaces a three decades-old remand centre adjacent to Edmonton’s downtown courthouse. The existing centre can’t meet burgeoning demands and many northern Alberta detainees have had to be held in other provincial facilities as far away as Calgary.

Locating a prison in a local neighbourhood can raise alarms, but these were mostly calmed by building ENRC on Edmonton’s periphery. A youth correction centre stands immediately to its north, an environmental wetland reserve lies to the east, and the Anthony Henday ring road is to the south. The city owns undeveloped land to the west.

While the centre’s distance from courthouses could have proven problematic, it has 53 video arraignment locations that enable electronic court appearances.

Alberta has applied P3 models on several major infrastructure projects. However, the director of Alberta Infrastructure’s Project Delivery Branch, Dave Frizell, P.Eng., explains that in this case P3 really wasn’t an alternative to construction management, which was the approach chosen for ENRC.

Detention centres typically take long to build, and, says Frizell: “They are very complicated structures. The construction management approach allowed the design to evolve while there already was a start to construction.” It also facilitated jump-starting a much needed project when higher construction costs loomed on the horizon.

Campus layout with pods

On ENRC, Edmonton-based ONPA Architects has targeted LEED silver designation.

The design is a “campus” layout with low-rise, maximum three-tier structures in the form of eight linked buildings. Initially, there will be five general population pods, each with 288 beds, a maximum-security pod also with 288 beds, a 224-bed health-care pod, and a central administration building. Most services including food are provided within each pod, thereby limiting the movement of inmates. There is space for three more pods, which would raise the bed count to 2,816.

Frizell describes the pods as “the most recent concept in correctional facilities; it gives lots of flexibility in separating inmates who can’t be housed together.” ENRC’s population could range from violent criminals to women and immigration-related detainees.

Each of the pods will have four units (each further subdivided into cells), with correctional peace officers positioned on the floor of each unit.

In the absence of any specific security concerns, ENRC will use “direct supervision.” This model entails stationing staff face-to-face with offenders in the common areas of each unit rather than behind barriers. However, each pod will have a back-up “pod-control” capable of managing all four units within that pod. The pods are linked by two-level walkways and central control is provided from the administration building.

Traditionally, prisons were reinforced concrete and masonry structures. But with time a factor and masonry trades in short supply, this was not an option. At ENRC, steel panels, fashioned off site and grouted in place with concrete, are employed for many between-cell partitions. Substantial portions of the exterior envelope are constructed with steel panels as well.

Remand centre stays usually are fairly short – averaging 17 days. So, unlike federal penitentiaries where offenders serve lengthier sentences, ENRC won’t incorporate sports fields and training shops.

Most visits will occur using a dedicated video facility in West Edmonton. Together the remote visitor site and ENRC’s video visitation booths for offenders will accommodate 60 visits every half hour, on a 12-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week basis.

Mechanical systems must account for possible riots

MP&P Engineering in Calgary are the prime electrical consultant, with Ken Maskell, P.Eng. as partner in charge of the project. Maskell brings more than 30 years of experience in designing electrical systems for detention facilities in Western Canada. “I’ve been in jail for a long time,” jokes Maskell. He counts ENRC as “by far the largest” and his most complex such project.

The centre’s 9 MW of capacity and two 2 MW standby generators underline the facility’s size. Similar scale is reflected on the mechanical side, where Hemisphere Engineering consulted on all the systems.

Since offenders can’t just leave and go home in the case of emergencies, additional reliability is needed for the systems. If the external electricity service is disrupted, the two back-up generators kick in to service the heating and food services, as well as for critical life-safety, communication and security systems.

The mechanical systems take into account the potential that in a detention centre fires or riots may occur. If oleoresin capsicum spray (cayenne pepper) must be deployed, the stairwell air pressure quickly doubles to clear the gas.

Cameras and biometric identifiers

The extensive steel walls make it difficult to broadcast signals, but the centre’s complex’s data systems are designed to meet the BICSI information technology systems standards.

Historically, prison security mainly entailed the jailer’s keys, solid perimeter walls, barbwire fences and perhaps even a moat or intimidating stretch of water. Security in modern facilities must encompass complex, interconnected technologies – CCTV cameras, electronic entry-door controls, biometic readers and other often-IP-based controls.

The challenge, says Ken Klimchuk, P.Eng. of GENIVAR in Edmonton, who are the security consultants on ENRC, centres on developing the sophisticated, integrated systems needed for security while also making their use by correction staff easy and intuitive. For instance, ENRC has 1,480 surveillance cameras. They basically “blanket” public and inmate common areas, and every cell is wired for cameras, though all don’t currently have them installed. With 1.2 petabytes or 1,200 terabytes, ENRC can store up to 30 days-worth of images from its hundreds of surveillance cameras. Like most modern institutions, a detention centre has certain conventional IT needs, such as storing voice or electronic administrative records. It is critical to separate such housekeeping data from sensitive and data-intensive security systems.

The security system is safeguarded by various redundancies, for instance, on data networks, cabling and switches, and the 62 operator workstations. The CCTV cameras work on two separate networks, so even if one network is down, the other will keep operating.

Video analytics able to detect movement are built into the system. More may be added as requirements and technologies evolve. Almost 3,000 intercoms spread throughout the detention area facilitate movement, in conjunction with the touch screen door controls and surveillance cameras.

As a LEED-targeted “dark-sky facility” with limits on the night-time release of light, ENRC does not have exterior illumination, except for in the staff parking lots. However, most of the external cameras have infrared illuminators and breaches of the external fence trigger LED impact lighting.

To enter the centre, ENRC employees use access-control cards and submit to vascular scans of the back of their hands. The scans detect vein patterns, which are unique biometric identifiers. Once the person is inside, touch-screen technology authorizes their en
try into specific areas.

Not only do the touch screens open and lock 1,803 detention doors leading to the cells and holding areas, but also they can override many of the card-access controlled doors. The touch screens also link and coordinate functions such as cell lighting, offender telephones, intercoms and adjacent cameras.

“This place,” observes Klimchuk, “is wired to the hilt. What is happening in security now is that it is basically digital technology communicating via digital networks.”cce

Nordahl Flakstad is a freelance writer based in Edmonton.


Edmonton New Remand Centre. Owner: Alberta Infrastructure; Prime consultant: ONPA Architects; Mechanical: Hemisphere Engineering; Electrical: MP&P Engineering; Structural: BPTEC-DNW; Security: GENIVAR. Construction manager: Stuart Olson Dominion


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