Thanks to the quick and knowledgeable responses by Tippecanoe Clerk Christa Coffey and her staff, no records of permanent value were lost as a result of a fire in the courthouse annex. The fire—deemed “suspicious” by the Lafayette Fire Department—occurred in the overnight hours of May 3rd and May 4th. Clerk’s office staff were concerned about the impact of the fire and smoke on the records, but the major damage was actually the result of water, both from the building’s sprinkler system and the firefighters’ hoses. Several boxes appeared soaked on the outside, but amazingly the contents were fairly dry on the inside. Quick thinking on the part of Christa and her staff led them to spread the wet documents to dry, an important step in the preservation process, and this quick response saved the records.
In addition to her hands-on involvement at the scene, Clerk Coffey contacted Beverly Stiers, head of the Records Management Division of the Indiana Commission on Public Records, to alert her of the situation and seek assistance from her agency. Because court records were involved, Ms. Stiers alerted State Court Administration Director of Trial Court Management James Walker and his staff about the situation. Both state agencies provided advice and hands-on assistance as needed.
Knowing that clerks in other counties had faced similar disasters, Christa sent out a distress alert e-mail advising them of her situation and asking for their help. Her colleagues responded with helpful advice and support in confronting the crisis in Lafayette. She acknowledged great comfort knowing that she could count on her colleagues for advice and support when dealing with this very difficult situation, and expressed her gratitude to each of them.
By the morning of May 6th conditions appeared much less dire, and this improved situation led Christa to make the following comments in an e-mail to state officials: “Thank you for being available to answer questions during this trying week. I am thrilled to report that although we lost some non-permanent records, the court files that were water damaged are now dry, albeit a little ‘fluffier’ than before. I have summer interns beginning soon and my priority for their time here is now very clear.”
Preparing for, or Recovering From, a Disaster: Assistance is Available
Director of Trial Court Management James Walker has several professionals on his staff to assist judicial officers and clerks in preparing for disasters or in recovering from disasters after they occur.
Preparing a Disaster Plan
Continuity Planner Trevor Moore currently is working with several counties to develop written disaster plans. His goal is to have plans developed in every Indiana county and to integrate the court system into each one.
Declaring an Emergency
If a disaster does occur, judicial officers may petition the Indiana Supreme Court for a disaster declaration under Administrative Rule 17. This emergency situation will occur anytime that a court room or courthouse becomes unusable due to a disaster and the regular court calendar is disrupted. Staff Attorney Doyal McLemore has the knowledge to help judicial officers with the procedures that must be followed when declaring an emergency under Administrative Rule 17.
Records Manager Tom Jones will help clerks and judicial officers in the disposition and restoration of court records in the event of a disaster.