Friday, September 8, 2017

Tech Ideas for Court Emergency and Disaster Planning

Hurricane Irma from the ISS

With the recent serious storms in the USA, planning to deal with emergency situations is on our minds.   But many things have changed because of the court's conversion to E-filing and electronic documents. We discuss below.


In “the old days” courts were locked to their physical building and records.  Now a court has the potential to relatively easily move their court to a different location and start work with minimal disruption.  But there are a few things that need to be in place first to be able to do this.

First, if your court uses E-filing that is a good step toward safety.  But to enable court portability, the E-filing servers, CMS, and electronic document servers shouldn’t be in the courthouse.  They should be located either in “the cloud” or in both the court’s local data center and the cloud in a “hybrid-cloud” architecture.  The graphic below shows a traditional and a hybrid cloud model.  As you can see, the court’s data and documents are stored both locally and remotely in this scenario.  And in most instances, the cloud servers and data are redundantly spread throughout the world.  This means your data is accessible wherever you go as long as there is an internet connection.

Second, if you court uses a central E-filing portal such as the Florida, Texas and many other state courts, they can maintain the E-filing services while your court operations are in flux.  Then when you come back online, you can download and sync your files.

David Slayton, Administrative Director at the Texas Office of Court Administration wrote earlier this week regarding the impact of Hurricane Harvey and the benefits of their E-filing program on their court system:
“While the storm has been difficult, the resiliency of the Texas spirit is present in its judiciary. As you know, Texas is a mandatory eFiling state, which meant that even though clerks’ offices shuttered, filing continued. In the first few days after the storm, thousands of documents were filed into the affected counties. Even more remarkable, thousands of documents were processed by court staff who could not physically be at the courthouse (or even at their own homes). Judges were able to review documents and issue orders remotely. It truly has been remarkable to see. Judges continued vital functions in the midst of the devastation around them.”
Third, location.  In the past, we worked with one court who had their courthouse burned, and another that was destroyed by a hurricane.  In the second instance, the court relocated to what was essentially a warehouse in a nearby suburban area until their courthouse was rebuilt over a period of several years.  A two-step plan to consider is to first look at neighboring courts to host operations in the short term.  But long term, the court should ideally find that convention/meeting center space or like the example, the warehouse where you can move operations.  The point is to have a place to go with electricity and computer network connection.

Fourth, plan for the jailed criminal defendants to be securely moved.  This takes coordination to create a list, and agreements with secure locations where the jail inmates can be relocated.  Then the need to work with the local court where the defendants are relocated to preserve the rights of the detained.  Further, there needs to be a transportation plan to return the jailed persons home, or to the evacuation location of their families. 

Technology can also help if the detention facility has video conferencing capabilities.  The original court jurisdiction should, in the matters that are legally allowed, be able to connect and adjudicate their hearings and even trials via video.  This may require a temporary order, rules, or legislation.  It is worth considering as it would be a temporary situation, but having a plan to deal with the emergency would be better than defendants sitting in jail unnecessarily.

Last, the NCSC has an excellent compendium on Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery online here.

These were some ideas I have on the subject.  What are yours?  Please feel free to share in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. My colleague, Bill Rafferty posted a great article regarding emergency court orders at: