Courts developing plan to continue operation in emergencies

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Cullman County Courthouse (Cullman Tribune file photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama judicial authorities on Wednesday instructed courts across the state to begin developing a contingency plan to maintain court operations in the event that an emergency disrupts local government operations.

Circuit Judge Gregory Nicholas, presiding judge of the Cullman County court system, told The Tribune, “Our State Administrative Office of Courts has asked presiding judges in each judicial circuit to assemble a team and adopt a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). The Plan will establish procedures to ensure that essential State court functions continue without interruption in the event an emergency in Cullman County threatens normal operations; it also addresses the relocation of selected personnel and functions to an alternate facility, if required.”

According to the 2014 Cullman County Elected Officials Guide to Emergency Management, a COOP is “a plan devised and record to ensure the safety of employees, provide for an alternative location for operations and the proper resumption of normal operations and services as a result of a disaster.”

According to Nicholas, the plan is designed to:

  • Ensure that the courts of Cullman County are prepared to respond to emergencies, recover from them, and mitigate against their impacts.
  • Ensure that the courts of Cullman County are prepared to provide critical services in an environment that is threatened, diminished or incapacitated.

 

The obvious connection: coronavirus 

The timing of the State’s request is sure to raise questions about the coronavirus, but Nicholas pointed out that the plans being developed across the state are not intended to offer responses to a single type of crisis.

Said Nicholas, “However, it should be emphasized that the COOP plan is being adopted but is not being implemented at this time. There is no evidence that the coronavirus is currently present in our community or that it will significantly impact our area in the future. The plan is being adopted only out of an abundance of caution to ensure that our local courts are prepared for any contingency that may arise. The adoption of this plan will be helpful in dealing with any future problems associated with a possible coronavirus pandemic, but it is designed to be used for any future emergency situation that jeopardizes court operations, such as the 2011 tornado that struck the courthouse and caused widespread devastation in our area.”

Government already has certain plans in place

The development of emergency contingency plans, including COOP’s, is nothing new for Alabama. The state has had emergency response plans in place since the “Civil Defense” programs of the early Cold War era in the 1950s. 

The Alabama Emergency Management Act, dating to 1955 and updated over the years, offers plans of response to situations “resulting from enemy attack, sabotage, or other hostile action, or from fire, flood, earthquake, or other natural causes, and in order to insure that preparations of this state will be adequate to deal with such disasters or emergencies, and generally to provide for the common defense and to protect the public peace, health, and safety, and to preserve the lives and property of the people of the state.”

The act includes responses to public health emergencies. The full act is included in the “Cullman County Elected Officials Guide to Emergency Management,” which may be viewed at www.alabamacounties.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Phyllis-Packet-PDF.pdf.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com