Supreme Court Adopts Guidelines for Emergency Preparedness Planning
The Mississippi Supreme Court has adopted Guidelines for Emergency Preparedness Planning.
Chief Justice James W. Smith Jr. in an order signed April 13 and filed April 20 said, “The guidelines were established to aid each court in Mississippi in the process of developing a unique, local emergency preparedness plan aimed at keeping the courthouse open during emergencies and/or threats, so long as the safety of the public, court officers and court personnel is not compromised.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Chief Justice Smith appointed Justices George C. Carlson Jr., James E. Graves Jr. and Michael K. Randolph to the Supreme Court of Mississippi Emergency Preparedness Committee and directed them to develop guidelines that will aid Mississippi’s courts in the development of unique, local emergency preparedness plans. Justice Carlson, committee chair, introduced the guidelines to chancery, circuit and county court judges on April 20 at the Mississippi Trial and Appellate Judges Spring Conference at Robinsonville.
Justice Carlson said that the drastic effect Hurricane Katrina had on the Mississippi judicial system was a reminder of the importance of emergency preparedness. Some trial courts closed due to the damage, and the Supreme Court closed as a result of utility outages. Courts in Hancock and Jackson counties are operating now in temporary facilities.
Justice Carlson said, “We have to start thinking about hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, earthquakes, acts of terrorism, bomb threats....What we are trying to do is to make sure that you are able to keep your doors open and operate your court system.”
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will serve as the judicial system’s chief emergency coordinating officer. The Supreme Court told trial courts to review the suggested guidelines and designate a local judge at each courthouse as an emergency coordinating officer within 60 days. Judges are asked to establish a court emergency managing group that will develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan. The guidelines suggest that the court emergency managing group include judges, court staff, representatives of the district attorney and public defenders as well as law enforcement agencies, state and local emergency management agencies and representatives of state and local government.
Justice Carlson said, “It’s about communication and cooperation and making sure what we can do to help.”
The Supreme Court’s guidelines suggest that emergency preparedness plans include a means of communicating, an alternative site where court proceedings can be held, advance designation of essential personnel and functions of the court, and details for moving staff and equipment. The guidelines noted that protection of court records is vital. The plan should consider temporary or long-term closure.
Justice Carlson said the guidelines are not mandatory, but are suggestions each court can use to develop its own detailed emergency preparedness plan. He said that each court’s plan should be tailored to fit local needs.
“What you need in Tishomingo County is going to be totally different than what you need in Wilkinson County,” Justice Carlson said.
Justice Carlson praised the diligent work of Dan Edwards, a staff attorney in the Supreme Court’s Central Legal Department. Edwards studied the emergency plans from other states to aid the Emergency Preparedness Committee in devising a plan which was compatible and workable for Mississippi. The Committee also expressed appreciation to the Workgroup on Emergency Preparedness for the State of Florida.
The Supreme Court’s order regarding emergency preparedness planning and the guidelines are available on the court’s web site at http://courts.ms.gov/Images/OPINIONS/131322.PDF.