LET'S GET REAL. My first attempt to write on this topic was on September 18th, 2001, a week after the massive security failures and unimaginable devastation of September 11th, when I began to recover from my shock, anger, and frustration to the point of considering how to respond positively. It was clear then that we ought to be reexamining security in our public buildings, and that a good deal of work would be required to understand how best to respond to threats and to plan for recovering from potential emergencies. It has also become clear that the nature of the security problems we should be confronting is much larger than those we faced before 9/11, now encompassing natural as well as man-made disasters, the recovery procedures, and the need to assure continuity of operations throughout the process.

Since then, and especially with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the security and emergency needs of many public operations and activities have been reexamined to find and remedy deficiencies, some with very public results as many airline travelers can attest. Restricted and controlled access to government buildings and other facilities have become commonplace throughout the country, while the costs of providing that control have also been growing. County and city office buildings, courthouses, and other public buildings—they all serve and are open to the public, they all have your employees–and you–working in them, they have similar features and security needs, and they respond to similar security measures.

And yes, security does involve access restrictions, because to protect the public and staff in our buildings we have to keep the dangers away. Americans aren't accustomed to such restrictions. Free and easy access to public buildings is a part of our way of life we won't willingly lose, unless the alternative to restriction is danger. As always, the issue is one of balance: How much restriction for how much safety?

Although county and city governments have been applying for and receiving grants to increase financial support for their first response agencies and to develop and test emergency response and preparedness plans for their jurisdictions, court systems in most states have not been part of those efforts. Neverthelessbecause they are places of public occupancy, repositories of important public records, and physical and psychological symbols of the continuity and strength of local governmentour courts and their buildings remain essential to the health and survival of our public life.

It has been my good fortune over several recent months of extensive travel to work with courts in a number of states both as an advocate for court security and emergency preparedness planning and to help them organize their planning efforts. Their judges and administrators have demonstrated strong commitments to preserving the integrity of their courts even in the face of unthinkable events. Please see here for further information on this project and a link to its report.

The Arizona Supreme Court put it well in the title of their exemplary report: PLANNING FOR THE UNTHINKABLE, a phrase which aptly describes the situation in which American courts now find themselves. If you would like to know more about what your court can and should do, please feel free to contact us. We'd be happy to talk with you.