Court security and emergency preparedness

In recent years, based on an increasing number of tragic incidents in courthouses around the nation, the concern of the judiciary regarding court security and emergency preparedness has resulted in it becoming a specialized priority for the NCSC.  The organization has assumed a central role nationally in promoting court security and emergency preparedness and offers a full range of services including:

  • Consulting services
  • Information services and publications such as the NCSC Steps to Best Practices for Court Building Security, the NCSC Continuity of Operations (COOP) Planning Guide and Template, monthly national security briefings and future trends articles
  • Training and education services including in-person seminars and interactive online classes

NCSC provides advanced consulting and training services for court security and emergency preparedness based on a comprehensive array of best practices.  As the leading national expert on state court security and emergency preparedness, the NCSC has performed more than 300 courthouse security and facility assessments in the majority of states and US territories.

Security projects can, and often do, require a comprehensive set of expertise and no two security situations are exactly the same.  To meet this need, the NCSC offers a diverse array of services to courts of all types utilizing a team of security consultants with varying backgrounds including law enforcement, military, emergency preparedness, architecture, and court administration.

The services offered in this area tend to fall into the following areas:

Physical and operational court security assessment projects

  • Assessment of security governance, management and internal communications
  • Assessment of security plans, policies, and procedures
  • Assessment of security staffing
  • Assessment of security technology and infrastructure
  • Assessment of physical security design to include detailed facility architectural analysis, development of long-term facility planning strategies, concept development and cost benefit analysis.
  • Cybersecurity assessments (in coordination with NCSC IT experts)
  • Security incident after-action analysis and assessment

Learn more about Court Facilities and Operations Planning

Emergency preparedness and COOP planning

  • Assessment of court emergency preparedness programs
  • COOP planning technical assistance
  • IT disaster recovery (DR) planning  (in coordination with NCSC IT experts)

Learn more about Emergency and COOP Planning

Training for court security and emergency preparedness

  • Training in security operations
  • Training in emergency response procedures and personal safety
  • Training in COOP planning and emergency preparedness

Learn more about Training for Court Security and Emergency Preparedness

State-level court security and emergency preparedness

  • Statewide court facility assessment programs
  • Assessment of statewide security programs and development of statewide standards/guidelines, security plans, and training
  • Development of statewide court COOP plan templates

Learn more about state-level Court Security and Emergency Preparedness

Emergency planning and security

The NCSC's analysis of security assessments it has conducted on more than 225 court buildings in recent years has been published in Status of Court Security in State Courts – A National Perspective.

The report, funded by a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, also includes a comprehensive analysis of the information and data gathered by the Center for Judicial and Executive Security (CJES) examining court building shootings, bombings, arson attacks, and other court-targeted acts of violence from 1970 to 2012.  Finally, the NCSC’s new publication includes data from extensive web and phone surveys of court and law-enforcement officials nationwide.

Court building security: Lessons learned, and best practices

Representatives from six courthouses where shootings and stabbings have occurred met at NCSC's Denver offices in August, 2013, to compare their experiences -- and to try to determine some lessons learned that might help their counterparts in courthouses throughout the country.

In their own words: "If your courthouse has been free of violence for the past 50 years, that is no assurance that it will not become the scene of violence tomorrow."

Their hard-earned advice and guidance is offered in this publication: Courthouse Violence in 2010-2012 - Lessons Learned.

Other useful guides for improved court security:

  • Steps to Best Practices for Court Building Security. Revised in 2013, this report defines best practices in various areas of court building security.
  • Guidelines for Implementing Best Practices in Court Building Security. In addition to Steps, this NCSC publication covers the priority and phases of security implementation.

Find out more about the steps and guidelines >

Home Security Audit and Recommendations. This audit checklist identifies security risks for judges and other judicial branch personnel. Its recommendations can help protect them and their families at home and while traveling.

Emergency preparedness

See how the Louisiana courts prepared for Hurricane Isaac in September 2012 and averted serious problems as a result of their Emergency Preparedness planning following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The Louisiana document contains a best practices template and an in-depth look at the steps they took to develop a success plan:

NCSC Disaster Preparedness - Louisiana Summary

Louisiana’s template on emergency preparedness best practices


COOP stands for continuity of operations; courts develop a COOP plan to ensure they know what to do if faced with an emergency that threatens continuation of normal operations. Traditionally, a COOP plan is developed and implemented for situations in which the courthouse or court-related facilities are threatened or inaccessible (e.g., as a result of a natural or man-made disaster). A traditional COOP plan establishes effective processes and procedures to quickly deploy pre-designated personnel, equipment, vital records and supporting hardware and software to an alternative site to sustain organizational operations for up to 30 days. It also covers the resumption of normal operations after the emergency has ended.

State Courthouse Operations and Security Statistics Survey: Development and Design

This BJS-funded pilot project will develop data collection instruments and methodology to evaluate court security.
Judges, employees, and others who work in or must use our nation’s courthouses are collectively at potential risk of becoming victims of hostile acts, including harassment, threats, physical attacks, and even death.

Who is at risk? How serious is the danger? How frequently do attacks occur? These and similar questions must be answered so that appropriate steps can be taken to insure that courts remain safe forums for the impartial resolution of disputes. Information about the most fundamental characteristics of courthouse violence and the counter-measures that courts have taken in response to real or perceived violence remains elusive, to the detriment of those who seek to develop effective policies and procedures to guarantee courthouse security.

See our past projects >