This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.
Survey Assesses Courts' Emergency Planning
It's Twenty Questions, but it's no parlor
game. In fact, the questions couldn't
be more serious. Court executives,
federal public defenders, chief probation
and pretrial officers, and clerks of court
are being surveyed on the status of their
unit's emergency preparedness program.
The information is being collected by the
Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial
Security to better assess the Judiciary's
preparedness in the event of a natural or
man-made emergency or disaster and to
identify areas where further emphasis may
be needed. The goal is for each court to
have in place a plan for the evacuation and
continued operation of the court in the
event of a disaster or other interruption.
Among the survey questions: the
status of a court, unit, or office's Continuity
of Operations Plan (COOP), who is
covered by the COOP, the type of training
or exercises that have been held to test
the COOP, if telework guidance has been
provided for employees in the event of
an emergency, whether the Judiciary's
Emergency Notification System is
integrated into the plan, and so on.
By early December, 84 districts had
responded to the survey. Of those districts,
all had completed a continuity plan or
had one in development. Over half of
the districts responding to the survey also
had tested their continuity plan. Of the
responding courts, nearly all also had
occupant emergency plans (OEP) and had
conducted training exercises.
Thirteen courts of appeals responded
to the survey. Eleven courts of appeals
reported they had a completed continuity
plan. The remaining two courts of appeal
are developing continuity plans. Every
court of appeal had an OEP.
While teleworking is not universally
embraced for the daily functions of a
court, nearly all courts responding to the
survey have a plan in place to implement
teleworking in the event of a man-made
or natural disaster affecting the workplace.
"Under the Judiciary's continuity
management program, each court has
a responsibility to assess the risk to the
physical facilities and information systems
and safeguard its employees as they
support the work of the courts in an
emergency," said William Lehman, Chief
of the Judiciary Emergency Preparedness
Office. "Updating COOP plans, and
preparing for and conducting exercises to
test the plans are key to that emergency
As courts evaluate their COOPs, the
experiences of eight midwest court
districts that tested their plans in the 2011
National Level Exercise (see The Third
Branch, June 2011, "Earthquake Scenario
Test Courts' Response.") offer tips on
planning and operations. The complete
list of lessons-learned is available on
the Judiciary's J-net, under Emergency
Preparedness. If these best practices aren't
part of your unit's COOP plan, now is the
time to add them.
- Prioritize essential functions now.
- Plan how employees will notify supervisors
of their whereabouts, add maps
and directions to relocation sites,
and train staff on responsibilities in a
- Create phone trees to contact
staff, have staff update InfoWeb
information regularly, and include
emergency contact information on cells
phones of all Emergency Relocation
- Ensure that the local offices of the U.S.
Marshals Service, Federal Defenders,
U.S. Trustees and General Services
Administration are integrated into
your COOP; and get to know your
local emergency responders, including
Federal Emergency Management
Agency, law enforcement, and disaster
- Get an out-of-state area code for
employees to call if local service is
down, include phone and laptop
chargers in Go-bags, and use alternate
Internet e-mail when phone and the
Judiciary's Data Communications
Network are inoperable.
- Review with jurors what they should do
in an emergency; add vendor's information
to COOP plans.
- In the event of an evacuation,
determine how courtrooms will be
secured; make decisions on oral
arguments, closure of court, filing
extensions, etc. as early as possible
and announce decisions to the Bar, the
public, and employees. Maximize use
of all available media.
- Conduct training on your COOP and
update it continuously.