California Judicial Council Rolls Out Disaster Prep Plan

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – After a presentation that could have been titled “How to save your case files from being lost in a disaster,” California’s Judicial Council on Friday adopted a statewide framework for the courts to protect their data.

The council approved a set of guidelines courts can use in contingency planning; recommending methods for backing up system data, such as cloud storage; preparing to replace equipment; keeping a secure list of passwords; sending email notifications and alerts; and simulating disaster scenarios.

“When we talk about disasters we’re thinking about disasters of all kinds, whether from extreme weather events or earthquakes, failures of IT systems, facilities, or utilities, or intentional malicious conduct,” Judge Sheila Hanson told the Judicial Council at its meeting Friday. Hanson chairs the council’s Information Technology Advisory Committee that developed the Disaster Recovery Plan and its accompanying template for the courts.

The disaster recovery guide comes as California recuperates from the devastating wildfires of this past October, some of which threatened Wine Country courthouses.

At a council meeting in November, Judge Gary Nadler of Sonoma County Superior said several of his county’s courthouses were imperiled by the blaze that engulfed several neighborhoods in Santa Rosa.

“We didn’t know at any point whether the fire would overtake one or more of the courthouses,” Nadler said.

Also in danger were the court’s case files, which were saved when the IT director, the only person with a key to the civil and family courthouse, rescued the case management system’s backup server by carrying it out in his arms.

Back in November, Nadler told the council that his chief aim in recounting that distressing time was “to get us to think about anticipating emergencies.”

The council seems to have heard him.

Hanson said 29 volunteers from 22 courts worked on the Disaster Recovery Plan, with a team surveying all 58 courts to assess their level of preparedness and need.

So far, Hanson said, the guide has yielded a positive response from the courts.

“We heard from multiple courts indicating they were very hopeful and wanted to use the final documents as soon as possible,” Hanson said.

The council was likewise impressed, voting unanimously to circulate the guide and begin looking into securing funding for the software and hardware court clerks and judges will need to implement disaster recovery plans in their courts.

“Is it possible I can vote twice on this in favor?” joked Presiding Judge Todd Bottke from Tehama, who sits on the council.

Council member Justice Harry Hull, who also voted in favor, asked how much the plan would cost.

“We did not try to even estimate that amount,” Hanson said, “It’s really dependent on the individual court. What we tried to do with the framework is provide all the tools for the individual court to assess and survey their own needs.”

A budget change proposal for next year, which the council conceptually approved Friday, will be contingent on the courts’ findings.

Following the vote, council member and Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin joked that he hoped the courts’ disaster recovery efforts would be an improvement over airlines.

“The airline computers go down, all of the planes don’t fly. You cannot get a boarding pass. I hope ours is better. When that happened, and I was in LA, I said ‘Thank goodness we don’t have their system,’” Chin said.

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