A recent GAO report on Child Welfare (July 2006:13) noted that in 2005, 29 states and Puerto Rico experienced 48 federally declared disasters, the most common of which were severe storms and flooding.
||It is unbelievable that this country’s disaster management system has never made the needs of children a priority in emergency response or involved child protection experts in the emergency planning process, but sadly it is true (Shriver, 2006).
All courts need plans to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from catastrophic events so that the essential services they provide can become operational again as soon as possible after a crisis. Obviously courts directly affected by an emergency need to be prepared, but those indirectly affected because of the influx of children and families from the disaster area must also be just as prepared for an emergency. Although this monograph is written with illustrations for courts that handle child abuse and neglect cases, it must be clear from the outset that dependency courts are part of a larger court system and that planning should be done as an integrated whole. Indeed, to be effective, courts should develop plans in coordination with other government agencies. Executive branch agencies need to view courts as another essential branch of government that must continue to function in emergencies.
The other major caveat originates from an old military saw attributed to Helmuth von Motke that no plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Regardless of the need to be prepared for a crisis, any plan should be regarded as a work in progress, evolving as the nature of the crisis becomes clearer. The purpose of writing this monograph was to learn from the experience of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and to apply those lessons to an emergency management program that will help other courts more efficiently prepare for, respond to, and recover from other disasters that occur.