From coronavirus to the flu, and everything in between: how to prepare for a public health emergency

Since more than 22 million U.S. residents have contracted influenza so far this flu season, and with the coronavirus permeating around the world, one thing is very clear – now is the time for courts to review their pandemic response and operations plans. If your court does not have a plan, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) highlights several resources (below) to help.

Preparing for a Pandemic. An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators, State Court Pandemic and Public Health Plans (2016). This is a blueprint for developing a pandemic benchbook and guides state and local court leaders without an existing pandemic benchbook to create one and prompts states with a benchbook to keep it updated (Appendix B provides templates and checklists).

National Pandemic Summit (May 2019). The National Center for State Courts supported Nebraska Chief Justice Michael Heavican in hosting the National Pandemic Summit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, home to the country’s largest biocontainment unit which treated three Ebola patients in 2014. The summit was funded by the State Justice Institute and hosted in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Nebraska Judiciary. The National Pandemic Summit provides numerous resources and we highlighted several that are most relevant.

  • Maine Preparedness by Judge Charles C. LaVerdiere who presided over the 2014 ebola case and related litigation. Judge LaVerdiere touches on epidemic related time management considerations, media concerns, difficulties sparse and conflicting laws could create, and dealing with public panic and perception.
  • Judge LaVerdiere's order in State of Maine v. Kaci Hickox
  • State Law in a Pandemic Response by Matthew Penn of the CDC’s Center for State, Tribal, Local, and Territorial Support, provides information about how state laws vary in terms of what courts and judges can do with regard to quarantine and related issues.

If your court has questions regarding pandemic planning or has related resources to share please reach out to NCSC.

Other Resources

  • Court Staff Expectations About Pandemics (2008) Research conducted as part of Institute for Court Management's Court Executive Development Program by the Director of Emergency Management and Court Continuity for Florida's Eleventh Circuit (Miami-Dade). The report examined both court staff's awareness of health issues (in this case bird flu) and their knowledge of how to prepare themselves. Additionally, the research surveyed court staff whether or not they would return to work amidst a pandemic and under what conditions.
  • FEMA course on Pandemic Awareness (To view this link, right click and select "Open link in a new tab.")