IV. Why Have an Emergency Preparedness Program?

A. Why Is This Issue Important?

The catastrophic events of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 demonstrated the limits of federal, state, and local capabilities to prevent loss, mitigate risk, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a disaster. According to the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina (February 2006) and the Report of the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, United States Senate (May 2006) four broad areas of deficiency existed:

• insufficient preparation for the disaster and unheeded warnings;
• insufficient and delayed actions resulting in poor decisions;
• breakdown of response support systems, e.g., communications; and
• failure in leadership.


While these reports analyzed government response in general, the conclusions may also be applicable to all courts, including dependency courts, and related legal and child welfare entities. Recommendations can guide the design and implementation of robust and integrated emergency preparedness programs that ensure the safety and security of some of society’s most vulnerable citizens: young, abused, neglected, and abandoned children, or wards of the court.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires states to assume an all-hazards approach to the development of capabilities to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from a broad array of disruptions.1 The state judicial branches should be no less prepared.

An emergency preparedness program applies to any threat or emergency that may disrupt normal court operations. It should be multidisciplinary and incorporate all facets of court operations, including administration, automation, security, human resources, and facilities management. Stakeholders should embrace the concept of shared responsibility for the program and related training activities. The decentralized nature of many state courts and the fact that courts often depend upon executive branch agencies for office space, courtrooms, and various aspects of security and risk management, necessitates careful planning, coordination, and communication.

Figure 1 provides a picture of how the major components of an emergency management program fit together.

Figure 1: Illustrative Emergency Preparedness Program

The purpose of establishing an emergency preparedness program within the judicial branch is to ensure that the capability exists to respond effectively to a broad array of potential operational interruptions. Dependency courts should work with the “‘parent” court to design and implement a program that ensures the safety and security of minors that come before the court.

B. Suggestions & Considerations

A comprehensive and strategic approach to emergency preparedness should address, in an integrated fashion, program management, prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery.

Figure 2: Program Elements

1. Program Management

The development of the program begins with program management, which requires courts to demonstrate leadership commitment; establish a governance structure; and understand federal, state, and local emergency preparedness guidance—such as Homeland Security Presidential Directives 5 and 8 and Federal Preparedness Circular (FPC) 65, 66, and 67—and any state-specific emergency planning and management orders. FPC 65 defines the process agencies should use in selecting, prioritizing, and identifying the resources necessary to perform their essential functions. This information provides the court with valuable information and guidance to help implement a robust program. Figure 2 identifies the recommended components of an emergency preparedness program for an individual court.

2. Prevention Activities

Prevention activities occur before an event and are those ongoing actions that aim to eliminate or mitigate risk and loss from emergencies and to protect people, facilities, and vital records. Prevention activities include:

• identification and analysis of key assets;
• development of a risk management and vulnerability assessment (gap analysis) program, including random security measures; and
• delivery of security awareness information and training to all employees.

3. Preparedness Activities

Preparation activities take place during normal conditions and include theestablishment of emergency authorities; assignment of resources; and development of continuity plans, critical incident and evacuation plans, and disaster recovery (IT) plans, policies, and procedures.

4. Response Activities

Response activities are planned and practiced before an event, then implemented once an event triggers their use. Staff should receive training at regular intervals, and the procedures must be tested at least annually to ensure applicability and staff familiarity.

Joy Peacock


5. Recovery Activities

Recovery activities are those necessary for the court to resume normal operations following a disruption. Planning ensures a coherent approach to recovery, while the exact response may ultimately depart from plans as appropriate to the situation. Recovery procedures typically include consideration for utilities, facilities and infrastructure, communications, records, human resources, information systems, and administrative activities.

6. Test, Training, and Exercise

Testing is essential to ensure that plans are workable and that weaknesses are identified and remedied. All staff need to be trained and retrained, but training is especially important for emergency response team members, who should participate in simulated disaster scenarios to ensure a high state of readiness.