A Corrections Emergency Response Team prepares for a staged hostage situation during a training exercise Wednesday at the SCI Mercer prison in Findley Township.

FINDLEY TOWNSHIP – The State Correctional Institution – Mercer conducted special training Wednesday to prepare for an emergency after taking time off from drills during the height of the pandemic.

“We got away from training for full-scale exercises,” said Nicole Franz, corrections superintendent assistant and public information officer. “It’s important because we’re looking out for the safety of the staff and the community.”

The critical incident manager maps out the event’s emergency scenario, in this case the escape of two prisoners.

The first step taken in the event of an emergency is to lock down and account for all inmates and staff. On Wednesday morning, the escape siren sounded, followed by an announcement of the drill.

A command post is set up in the superintendent’s office, consisting of members of the Corrections Emergency Response Team and the hostage-negotiation team. Pennsylvania State Police will have two representatives and members of regional teams from other Department of Corrections facilities will usually join the command post.

The CERT team is made up of a team leader, who is a captain, and corrections officers including sergeants and lieutenants. The hostage-negotiation team consists of staff members, including social workers and corrections officers.

“The special teams are in place to react to whatever the situation at hand is,” Franz said.

Members of the CERT team are dispersed to what are called “escape points” in the community.

SCI Mercer has never had an escape, as far back as Franz can remember.

The state corrections system’s latest escape happened in November of 2007 at SCI Albion in Erie County. Convicted murderer Malcolm Kysor hid in a garbage can that was pushed from a loading dock into a pickup truck. Kysor was recaptured the following April after someone heard was bragging about his escape on a park bench in California, Franz said.

Since then, the job he had been performing was eliminated, and further security measures were put into place, Franz said.

One of the advantages to having several institutions in the state is that people transfer from institution to institution, and are familiar with more than one prison, so further security measures can be taken.

“We just have to be prepared in case something would happen,” Franz said.

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at

Follow Melissa Klaric on twitter @HeraldKlaric or email her at

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Melissa has been a news reporter for The Herald since 2013, covering breaking news, northern Mercer County, Sharon City schools and education. She is a 1992 graduate of Youngstown State University with a Bachelor of Arts in communications.