Ready to Riot

MOUNDSVILLE – The city is bracing for the impact of nearly a thousand members of law enforcement and corrections technology from around the world flooding the area for the 17th annual Mock Prison Riot this week at the former West Virginia Penitentiary.

Hosting hundreds of trainees for a week brings its own unique challenges to downtown Moundsville, but a boost to local business is always a welcome bonus. Mike Coleman, director of security for the West Virginia Department of Corrections, estimates the prison riot has brought in about $2 million to the local economy for the past 16 years, primarily in hotel booking, restaurant business and service contracts with local vendors for riot events.

Coleman said hotels and lodging in Moundsville, Wheeling and St. Clairsville will fill up for the event to accommodate about 900 people registered for the riot this year.

“Hotel operators have this on their schedule every year,” Coleman said. “They know they are going to get a certain number of people booked. There have been years when, if you wait until the last minute, you were out of luck. We’ve had people going almost as far as Pittsburgh for a hotel.”

Craig White, general manager of Grand Vue Park, said six of the park’s cabins sleeping about 12 people have been booked for the week to house trainees.

The park will also serve as a training site to give officials practice in open area emergency situations. According to White, certain areas of the park, including the base camp of the zipline, will be designated training sites and said the public is welcome to the park to observe the training.

“They will be doing routines and drills, so there might be some bangs and loud noises from weapons practice,” White said. “Nobody should expect a quiet evening.”

Moundsville Police Chief Tom Mitchell warned local residents might experience some mild disturbances from the penitentiary during the prison riot. He said training with “flashbangs”, which are used in emergency situations as a distraction, might cause some loud noises similar to fireworks. Parking might also be an issue for local residents and some regularly used spaces might be reserved for riot trainees during the week. Coleman advised there will be heavier parking on the perimeter of Jefferson Avenue and Eighth Street and additional signs to prohibit parking in a few spots to avoid unnecessary traffic.

“Local people are used to what goes on,” Coleman said. “There is minimal impact on the the operations of the city. We have a good working relationship with the city manager, the fire chief and police chief in Moundsville.”

Mitchell also noted local law enforcement has had security conversations leading up to the riot in the event an actual emergency situation would occur. He said all local law enforcement, riot members and area schools have designed a “general template” of action for emergency evacuation in case of an actual disturbance.