Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves

The New Guide To Assist Courts In Planning for Natural Disasters and other Emergencies

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC), with SJI support, has developed a new emergency management planning guide to help court officials better prepare for and respond to natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten court operations. The guide, which replaces one created in 2007, comes at a time when the nation is experiencing unprecedented hurricane and wildfire seasons, a pandemic, increasing civil unrest and domestic terrorism. The guide identifies how court officials should write emergency management plans, and connect with state and federal agencies that can help them before, during, and after natural disasters and emergencies.

The work to develop the guide started with a “lessons-learned” meeting in 2019, when court officials from states that experienced major natural disasters — Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California and Hawaii — gathered in Denver to share what did and did not work in their states. After the meeting, NCSC consultants conducted technical assistance projects in many of those states through the lens of the lessons learned.

The new guide, which was recently presented to the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), is intended to help all state courts as they create and refine their emergency management plans, commonly referred to as COOPs, or Continuity of Operations Plans. “While the challenges are great, many courts have learned quite a bit about how to innovate and maintain operations in the face of an emergency,” said Nathan Hall, the project director. “The recent lessons learned by these courts have been documented in the new COOP planning guide.” Hall added that it made perfect sense to develop a new guide because the 2007 guide needed to be updated, and other emergency management guides are not specific to courts.

Here are some initial steps, spelled out in the guide, for court officials to take before writing an emergency management plan:

  • Get executive support.
  • Assign a COOP leader.
  • Assemble a COOP planning team.
  • Understand emergency management laws and policies.
  • Establish relationships with local emergency management officials and key court leaders.

This work will end with the development of additional online assessment and planning tools to help courts. “Moving forward,” Hall said, “this work should make the process of developing a COOP plan much more doable for courts and ultimately result in courts being better prepared for any emergency situation that may arise.”