Probate office has ‘black box’ disaster plan

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, May 28, 2013

For Probate Judge Ben Bowden, this week’s devastation in Moore, Okla., is just a reminder that getting a black box for his office was a good idea.

Bo-wden, whose father wor-ked for EMA, said his family has always been disaster conscious. Just as he was starting to think about a disaster plan for his office two years ago, much of Tuscaloosa was demolished by a killer tornado.

Subsequently, Bowden applied for and received a $8,500 FEMA grant which he and his staff have used to prepare for a disaster.

Their “black box” is actually a group of black cases that host computers, printers, a scanner, and everything else they can imagine they would need if they had to move the property transaction portion of probate business off site, down to paper clips and court seals.

“We don’t have to have an Internet connection to get up and running,” he said. “It’s a contained system.”

In the aftermath of a disaster, he said, the recording division would be the most critical.

“You don’t really worry about tags in the midst of a disaster,” Bowden said. “The DOR can waive fees as long as we need to, and we can keep driving with expired tags.

“I can hold court anywhere,” he said. “But in the the recording division, you’ve got real property being used as collateral for loans.”

Without that function, he said, the credit part of the community could grind down to halt, slowing recovery times.

“You’d have a lot of commerce going on, that relies on recording,” he said. “That would be the thing I would want to get up and running compared to anything else.”

Already, records are backed up daily in the courthouse and off site. One of the local backup copies is taken out of the courthouse each night to provide triple precaution in the event of an emergency.

Bowden said he also has signed an agreement with LBW Community College to allow the probate office to use space on the MacArthur campus, if available, in the event there is a catastrophic interruption of services in the courthouse.

Bowden said in some ways, he has a little bit of concern about state-of-the-art equipment just sitting in cases.

“But that’s just the disaster business,” he said.

He plans to let other probate judges know about it, and loan it in the event another county faces catastrophic damages.

“The overall idea is to be prepared ourselves, and that’s what we want to do,” he said.