Major Greg Summerlin (Ret)
With numerous stakeholders, how can you build and maintain support for a major project?
Identify the applicable stakeholders and determine how they will each benefit from the project. During the initial meetings, present multiple win-win situations to create stakeholder support. Serve as a liaison between the different groups to help ensure all parties come together on a common vision and goal. When necessary, serve as a buffer to prevent stakeholder egos, minor issues or historical conflicts from undermining support for the project. Effective communication is the key to success. Finally, develop a relationship of mutual respect and trust with all the stakeholder project leaders. Get to know each other. In short, make FRIENDS, not mere work acquaintances. Friends, working together, can achieve great things.
How important is clear project vision, detailed agreements, and group transparency?
A clear project vision is important to keep all stakeholders on the same page, focused and working towards the successful completion of the project. Ambiguity is not your friend, as it could cause confusion, mistrust and conflict. Beyond a clear project vision, goals, and objectives, DETAILED agreements were essential to ensure the long-term success of the project. Since the JPC project had to bring the City of Houston and Harris County governments together, the project teams worked together with attorneys to create the JPC Interlocal Agreement. As part of that contract, the project teams also created a JPC Operational Agreement that brought together the Harris County Sheriff's Office and the Houston Police Department in order to consolidate local jail operations. By negotiating clear and equitable terms upfront, all parties understood and agreed to their legal, financial, and operational obligations.
How important is project team continuity?
It is essential that the core executive and technical teams remain stable throughout the project. Constantly changing out personnel could cause confusion, the questioning of prior decisions, and expensive change requests based solely on new individual preferences. Project team turnover could result in the project stalling or even regressing. It's hard to build a successful team and achieve your project goals when all the core players keep changing.
NOTE: If you are building or remodeling a county jail in Texas, it is essential that your team members be very familiar with all the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) requirements. For reference, the TCJS website is located at https://www.tcjs.state.tx.us
When designing a facility, how can the projected annual operational costs be minimized?
Construction costs can be relatively minor compared to the long term operational costs of a new facility. Once the facility opens, personnel costs will be the highest operational expense. During the Planning Phase, examine your operations and look for opportunities to reclassify positions, streamline functions and consolidate processes using a new facility and modern technology. Based on that analysis and the applicable data, develop the building design and your staffing plan TOGETHER. Every design decision could have an impact on daily staffing needs. Design the facility so that staff, with proper training, can multi-task and assist each other. Functional and workspace adjacencies are critical to facilitate efficient multi-tasking. The JPC was designed to minimize the number of fixed duty posts, facilitate staff flexibility, and maximize efficiency.
During the planning phase, how do you prevent the project from becoming an unaffordable "Taj Mahal"?
It is important to work with stakeholders to establish a maximum project budget EARLY in the planning process. A set budget number will help the planning team prioritize space requests and separate the "needs" from the "wants". Once the budget number is known, the planning team can work with the end-user groups to develop and present various options to applicable stakeholders. In 2007, the JPC was originally projected to cost $245 million, but Harris County citizens voted against that large bond proposal. After the bond defeat, we were forced to prioritize our needs and downsized the JPC facility to a targeted amount of $100 million. In November 2013, with elected official support and no organized opposition, voters (barely) approved our revised bond proposal.
Do you think you know it all? You don't. Discovering what you don't know can be the key to your success.
Early in the project, it was critical to broaden our team knowledge of correctional best practices and new, innovative products/software in order to apply them to the JPC. How did we do it? The HCSO project team and other stakeholders toured numerous detention facilities across the nation, attended training conferences, consulted with industry experts and experienced peers, and assisted in assembling the best contractors, equipment, products and software for the JPC. It was essential that the team learn from others and then combine that knowledge with their own local expertise in order to build the best facility possible. I can't emphasize enough the importance of research. Hey, a bicycle looks great until you see a Ferrari. Anyway, for additional details, please see the HCSO Project Team tab (above).
What were some of the keys to the successful opening of the JPC?
Given the numerous new duty posts, the large size of the transitioning workforce (hundreds of staff members), and the sheer complexity of the JPC facility (new building design, new operational model, new procedures, new software, new security systems, etc.), we knew the opening the JPC would be a huge challenge. To help mitigate the situation, we held numerous training sessions, transition meetings and facility tours before the Grand Opening (Feb 2019). We also decided that, for the initial opening, we would "make each employee's world small." By that, I mean we pre-selected employees for specific JPC duty assignments and gave them extensive training in that one duty post (e.g. Intake, Receiving, AFIS, Booking, Courts, Releasing, Control Center, Location Coordinator, Property. etc.). In a new environment with hundreds of employees adjusting to fundamental change, SIMPLICITY is your friend. We began employee cross training on the shifts AFTER employees became confident in their primary duty assignments. We also had employees work overtime into the next shift. In conjunction with training, policies, and supervision, one of the best ways to help standardize JPC operations across the different duty shifts, and provide operational continuity, was for staff to work overtime with the employees on the next shift. The use of overtime also allowed us to compensate for being short-staffed. Of course, JPC supervisors and project team members also deployed across the duty shifts to help our staff transition into the new JPC. I stayed at a hotel in downtown Houston so I could be present on all three JPC shifts. True, there were numerous bumps in the road, but we overcame those difficulties as a TEAM.
How do you cope with the stress that comes with a major project?
A good sense of humor is the key. The ability to laugh, and get people around you to laugh, will help reduce the group tension level and stress. It also helps to take a quick break and get some fresh air. If the stress gets really bad, remember, this isn't the animal kingdom. Regardless of the situation, nobody is going to eat you (ha, ha).
Adversity. What can you do when things go wrong?
Despite all the planning, preparations and teamwork, things will go wrong. When they do, work with your team and all applicable stakeholders to identify the problem, implement a solution, and confirm success. Leadership is bringing the team together to collectively rise to the challenge and overcome adversity. When things do go wrong, people who are resistant to change, or wilt under pressure, may become critical of the project. Let's face it, it's easy to just sit up in the bleachers and throw stones. In order to actually implement the fundamental change necessary to modernize and improve an organization, people have to understand there are going to be some bumps in the road. It is important to reassure stakeholders and keep them advised. When adversity strikes, stakeholders must STAND FAST and support the project team. To do otherwise can turn mere adversity into failure.
What was the most significant challenge in transitioning HCSO operations into the JPC?
The lack of staff continuity at the new JPC facility complicated efforts to standardize operations across all three shifts. When you merge city/county jail operations, implement a brand new operational model (open seating vs. holding cells), transition staff from paper-based operations to a modern jail management system, operate a new electronic security system, electronic security rounds, etc., one of the most important things I needed at the new facility was staff continuity. Hundreds of staff had to be trained in the new aspects of a complicated job, and it takes time for them to accrue the necessary knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, new supervisors and frontline staff were constantly being transferred in/out of the JPC. The constant shuffling of staff caused employee training issues, intermittent operational errors and a lack of consistency between the JPC shifts. My biggest regret was not being able to limit employee transfers and stabilize the JPC workforce prior to my retirement.
How important is it to have the confidence and support of officials at the highest levels of your organization?
Essential. Your support may be rock solid, but will it remain that way when things get tough? Trust me, the old ways of doing things will not go gentle into that good night. Implementing significant change can include a difficult transition phase, so never take executive support for granted. Once executive confidence and support is lost, staff will lose focus, morale will suffer, and your ability to lead will be severely impaired. Effective communication through all phases of the project is the key.
Why did I create this website?
While I am hopeful this website will be helpful to other agencies, I must admit, my primary motivation was PRIDE. I am so proud of all the people who dedicated themselves to this project, all those who advocated and supported it, and I am just proud to have been a part of it. What we accomplished together was truly remarkable.
How can I obtain more information about the JPC project?
Click on the "Contact Greg Summerlin" tab (above). While retired, I'm still glad to help out and answer questions about the JPC project. Questions that can assist others will be added to this FAQ section. Again, the JPC is a testament to what can be achieved when a great group of people all work together.
Question Received: Can you provide some examples of how the design of the JPC improved operational efficiency?
Where to start? Given the size of the facility and huge prisoner processing volume (125,000+ annually), some examples include:
The JPC is designed to be a one-stop-shop for the arresting officer. The JPC includes a DUI processing area (including blood draw), AFIS machines, interview rooms, HCSO and HPD evidence rooms, line-up rooms, and 24/7 access to a magistrate. In addition, the prisoner transfer-of-custody process is designed to take no longer than 20 minutes, allowing officers to return to service with minimal delay.
Numerous JPC areas, including the Intake and Releasing areas, were designed so staff could quickly (less than 30 seconds) multi-task between those areas to prevent backlogs and assist each other. This flexibility and teamwork is especially important during peak times.
Prisoner property (cash, valuable, bulk and clothing) is collected, stored, and returned in such a way that minimizes property movement.
The locations of the open seating areas, courts, clinic and processing stations minimizes prisoner movement/escorting.
Supervisor offices were designed to have direct line-of-sight into prisoner processing areas, including Intake, Receiving and Booking.
The JPC design included a robust clinic, allowing the HCSO to provide enhanced health services to everyone being booked into the jail.
The municipal courtroom design included a public-side witness box that allows officers and others to testify without having to actually enter the secure-side of the courtroom. This safety/security feature also expedites the hearing process and reduces the amount of time officers would otherwise have to spend at the JPC.
The JPC includes eight housing units (552 beds), which allows the HCSO to retain most of the short-term prisoners at the JPC. This reduces the number of prisoners who would otherwise have to be escorted to/from the other jail housing facilities via the secure tunnel system. Escorting prisoners between the buildings is staff intensive, time-consuming, cumbersome, and inefficient.
By design, the direct-supervision housing officers are leveraged to also serve as the recreation and visitation officers, with no escorting required. Prisoners eat their meals, have visitation, receive their commissary, receive their mail, use the phone, watch TV, exchange out laundry, and participate in recreation without ever having to leave their direct-supervision housing units. In addition, through the use of innovative design, there are no concrete columns inside the housing units and all inmate housing areas are awash in natural light.
Upon release, prisoners must walk through our Re-Entry Services Area to exit the JPC facility. Since the majority of prisoners are released within 72 hours of intake, having everyone "exit through the gift shop" is an efficient way to provide people with program information, access to social services, and offer additional assistance in order to help reduce recidivism.
Throughout the facility, the design facilitates staff use of modern technology. This enables the electronic work-queues, prisoner tracking, data-sharing (eliminating duplicate data entry), desktop monitoring of operations in real-time, automated quality controls, analytics, etc.
The JPC design included an employee computer lab. To successfully utilize modern technology and software, and facilitate staff multi-tasking, it is essential to provide personnel with comprehensive, interactive training.
The electronic security system was designed to facilitate efficient operations. That includes the P.A. system, intercoms, elevator controls, use of proximity cards, placement/use of surveillance cameras, lighting control, system notifications and placement of duress alarms.
By design, the JPC is able to facilitate virtual public visitation, attorney visitation and JP/PC court hearings all via video, reducing the need for people to drive into downtown Houston.
Of course, the scale of the design is also noteworthy. The JPC was designed to handle the combined Harris County and City of Houston prisoner processing volume, thus allowing the city to close its' antiquated jails. Consolidating jail operations eliminated an enormous amount of duplication and all the wasted time some prisoners spent at the city jails while waiting to be transferred to the county jail.
The above are just a few examples of how the design of the JPC modernized operations and dramatically improved efficiency. Almost very detail of the JPC design (e.g. location of the elevators, stairwells, bathrooms, breakrooms, control rooms, workstations, seating areas, courtrooms, offices, lobby, dock, storage rooms, etc.) went together to enhance operational efficiency. Identifying and properly sizing all the areas, mastering the necessary adjacencies, a detailed knowledge of all operations (especially how they interact), a shared vision towards the future, and TEAMWORK were the keys to a successful design.
Question Received: What were some of the design and/or construction issues encountered at the JPC that other jurisdictions can avoid?
While the JPC is a state-of-the-art facility, some issues were discovered and had to be resolved. For example, we had problems with the smoke detection and removal system, one of the elevators, some of the detention furniture, and the facility plumbing system (e.g. p-trap issues, pipe leaks, clogged sewer lines, floor water drain issues). We also had A/C deficiencies in several areas.
Some vendor products also had issues. For example, the original privacy curtains installed in the clinic area would not slide open/closed properly and had to be replaced. Also, the scrubber machines purchased to clean the epoxy floors were not durable and broke down often. Given the texture of the epoxy finish, it is very difficult to properly clean and shine the floor with just a mop. Anyway, I can provide more detailed information if needed.
A Word of Warning:
The design of each new facility must be tailored to the operational processes, and applicable data, of the end-users and their future needs. The interior layouts, adjacencies, size of each area, etc. are all based on the applicable data (i.e. processing flows, functions, volume, the time people will spend in each area, etc.). If the end-users change their business practices after the facility is built, operational efficiency could be affected. For instance, the JPC intake area was designed to facilitate a relatively fast transfer-of-custody process. If future leaders decide to add more time/steps to that process (i.e. by adding in more data collection, health screening steps, property processing, etc.), then the entire transfer-of-custody process will take longer. The longer it takes, the more likely people (officers and prisoners) will stack up in the Intake Area, causing the area to become overcrowded. Even small changes can have an outsized, domino effect on operational efficiency, especially when processing a large volume of people. Future leaders must identify and analyze the impact on operations, to include interrelated areas and applicable software systems, before implementing any changes, or adding new programs, to the JPC. Remember, it's hard to create and operate something truly exceptional, but relatively easy to undermine and break it.
The good news is that the JPC's open-waiting design facilitates operational flexibility. That said, the longer it takes to flow prisoners through the system, the more likely those open waiting areas will become crowded, causing security and safety concerns.
One last word of warning: While the JPC is a well-designed facility, it must have a stable, well-trained, professional STAFF in order to operate properly. The JPC is a complex operation and requires a skilled, motivated, properly supervised workforce. The right people, working as a team, truly make all the difference.