For May 8, 2008

Contact: Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information 512.463.1441

Border Issues First for Task Force Planning for Emergency Preparations

A task force tackling the need for disaster-response planning for Texas courts will assess potential threats Thursday to judicial operations along the Texas-Mexico border in the first of a series of planned meetings across the state The "roundtable discussion" will feature an overview by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Infrastructure Protection and the Mexican general consul in El Paso and will draw from disaster-preparation experts from the El Paso region and Mexico with a focus on operational needs for the El Paso County Courthouse.

The meeting will be from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Cortez Building, at the corner of North Mesa and Mills Avenue on San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso. Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, who initiated planning for the Task Force to Ensure Judicial Readiness in Times of Emergency, will open the El Paso meeting with the task force chair, Denise Davis of Austin.

"The threat of downtown flooding in El Paso two years ago from a dam in Mexico that dangerously came close to failing was one example of how almost overnight court operations might have come to a halt and court records might have been destroyed," Jefferson said. "The lessons we can implement from the Katrina devastation on New Orleans will guide us along the border and across Texas toward our goal to assure courts stay open in times of disaster."

The El Paso meeting host will be 205th District Judge Kathleen H. Olivares, the chair of the task force's Border Issues Committee.

"It is my hope that El Paso will be used as the model city for emergency preparedness along the Texas border," Olivares said. The 16-member task force was created by court order in November 2007.

Experts who have been invited to the El Paso meeting include the El Paso city-county emergency management coordinator and assistant coordinator and plans and operations officers from Fort Bliss.

This will be the task force's third meeting since its creation.

"The border presents special considerations and international cooperation because a disaster that affects Texas courts inevitably will affect courts in Mexico," said Davis, who practices law in the Austin office of Houston-based Baker Botts. "We will look at special needs in all parts of Texas, but in El Paso and along the Rio Grande we confront an extra dimension to our planning needs."