Courthouses and judicial facilities need crisis communication and emergency alerting capabilities like any other enterprise. These entities face the same notification and emergency response challenges, such as:
- Early closure or cancellation, and a need to inform people of severe weather conditions or to clear time for the Court due to unexpected demands
- Notification of critical event: notify parties that the verdict is in or another important event has taken place
- Daily staffing requirements, especially when personnel needs are unexpectedly heavy or people call in sick
- Business continuity and preparation for crises to ensure that continuity plans are in place
- Active threats related to active shooters, escaped prisoners, and threats to health and safety
This third point above illustrates an underappreciated feature of Blackberry's AtHoc crisis communication solution. If staff members are needed on short notice, the system can automatically contact a predefined list of alternate personnel, and then request acknowledgment of receipt and acceptance of the task.
Once the appropriate number of skilled positions have been filled, the system either stops the outreach process, or notifies the remaining names that they are not currently needed but to remain on standby. This includes staffing for court security and court reporters. Often a reporter is assigned to each judge, but if the assigned person is unavailable, it can hold up courtroom proceedings.
A crisis communication solution can be used effectively by staff in the judge's chambers, and by security or IT personnel, and for other courthouse management functions.
If AtHoc's Cloud-based subscription service is used, the crisis communication system can automate the process by which juror pools, lawyers, bailiffs, and other attendees are notified of changes to the court schedule and courtroom locations. If the judge has unexpected requirements, he can call his chambers manager to clear the docket for the day without the risk of creating hours of rescheduling work. Authorized individuals, such as that day's jurors, can enroll to receive notification via smartphone that lunch or a similar break has ended, and they must return. The crisis communication system can also contact prospective jurors automatically, reminding them of their obligation and requiring confirmation that they have received the notification. And, when a verdict comes in, it usually results in a flurry of activity for court staff, and thus a system to notify all interested parties saves time.
Even parking can be assisted through timely automated notifications. Jurors, lawyers, media, and staff can be redirected as lots are filled or become available. Courthouse staff can adjust rapidly if transportation to or from remote lots become delayed in traffic or disabled due to mechanical breakdowns.
Business Continuity and Safety
Another appropriate application for this technology is business continuity. If a courthouse or its archives are under direct threat due to severe weather or another catastrophic event, all digital and physical records must be protected to enable the restoration of full operations as quickly as possible. Since court records carry legal import for many years after a case has been resolved, this preservation is critical to the ongoing performance of the legal system.
The crisis communication system can notify the teams trained for this responsibility, and help different responder organizations collaborate on a coordinated response. By automating this process, courts save critical moments and increase the likelihood that all essential records will be preserved during a crisis.
Health and safety threats are another concern. Judges, lawyers, and courthouse staff may be threatened by an upset litigant or criminal. Near-real-time notifications and accountability are priceless when alerts can be initiated by any authorized employee or security guard to warn at-risk people to take cover.
Affordable, Scalable, and Efficient
Affordability is always a consideration. The same crisis communication system can be applied across an entire city, county, or state government, helping smaller entities enjoy the full range of capabilities that larger organizations employ.
This high degree of integrated emergency response carries other benefits, including the coordination of emergency activity across all first responders and essential staff members in a broad area.
There is an old saying that the wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. Proper planning and use of a crisis communication system such as Blackberry's AtHoc can help that process run more smoothly, for emergencies and daily operations.