Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Preparedness and the Legal System

Just a short note on a brief paper by the American Bar Association, "Rule of Law in Times of Major Disaster," which lays out a set of principles to guide the preparation and response of the judicial system for a major disaster.

There are no real surprises here, but the ABA's principles may be useful as a kind of checklist for planning. I'll just focus on a few of the 12 principles that ABA provides:

  • The rule of law must be preserved when a major disaster occurs.
  • The preservation of the rule of law requires proactive planning, preparation and training before a major disaster strikes.
  • All those involved in the justice system must work collaboratively to assure the ongoing integrity of the system in times of major disaster.
  • Federal, state, territorial, tribal and local governments should work with each other and with the private sector to plan, prepare and train for a major disaster. Such efforts should focus on means to preserve order, protect vulnerable populations, insure adequate communications and assure continuity of operations of business and government.
  • State, local and territorial Bars should educate their members to plan, prepare and train for a major disaster, including information enabling attorneys to assure the continuity of their operations following a disaster, while maintaining the confidentiality and security of their clients’ paper and electronic files and records.
There's a list of specific steps under Principle 10 that is particularly helpful (if a bit obvious), including:
  • Disaster risk assessment and planning should be integrated into government and private infrastructure and land use decisions.
  • Environmental assessments should include consideration of disaster scenarios and discuss mitigation measures.
  • Standing government procedures should be in place to assess prevention and response to all major disasters, rather than relying on ad hoc mechanisms.
  • Special attention should be given to the needs of vulnerable populations in planning disaster responses. Characteristics requiring special consideration include poverty, age (including both the elderly and children) and disability.
  • Legislation should insure that deadlines, whether found in state or federal rules or statutes or in private contracts such as insurance, can be modified or tolled in the event of a major disaster.
  • States should review regulatory statutes to insure that they contain appropriate waiver provisions for conditions resulting from a major disaster.
Again, no real surprises. But repetition is an important part of making a message stick.

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