A Little Piece About Understanding the State of Emergency

26 August, 2011

Creative Commons License photo credit: USDAgov

Understanding the State of Emergency

Ugh. So many things I want to post up here. Can’t write fast enough. But here’s a quickie that seemed applicable given the events on the east coast right now.

What is a SoE?

A state of emergency (SoE) is a declaration that can be issued by various levels of government when an area-wide emergency has occurred or it is believed that it is about to occur. Most typically, these orders are issued by someone from the state governor’s office. The act of making this official declaration is not simply a matter of pointing out the obvious, it’s a specific action that can be taken that allows the local/regional government to take specific actions. Most importantly, it opens up access to emergency funds and resources that enhance the region’s ability to affect rescues and evacuations during the event and recovery assistance after the event. Once a state is in a SoE they may also petition for enhanced federal assistance.

Does a SoE require me to evacuate? Does it prevent me from returning home?

Different municipalities have differing rules, so if you’re concerned you should do a little local research. Nearly all state/province-level governments have some sort of web presence that can provide these details. But for the most part, no, SoE declarations do not normally suspend your right to free movement. That said, some areas may face limited access for safety purposes. The best analogy might be that of a burning building. There’s legally nothing to prevent you from going into it, but no fire fighter or police officer in the world is going to stand-by and let people go in.

What’s Martial Law? Is it the same thing as a State of Emergency?

Martial Law is a specific situation wherein the military is brought in to maintain order. This may be invoked during times of disaster, but may also happen during extreme civil unrest or where local law enforcement is overwhelmed. Generally the military authorities will supersede the normal, civilian authorities in a given area and is often accompanied by the suspension of some/all civil liberties.

Does a SoE mean I can get access to food, fuel, etc for free so I can evacuate?

No. Merchant’s are not obligated in times of emergencies to surrender their goods without compensation, no more than you should be expected to part with your personal possessions. On the other side of the coin, merchants are not permitted (in most jurisdictions) from increasing their prices too high – so called “price gouging” or “profiteering”.

If circumstances require evacuation, but you can not evacuate yourself, most regional authorities will try to assist. But, as seen during events like Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans, these civil assistance systems can be overwhelmed (or mismanaged). If you are able to account for yourself, and you know of a neighbor that cannot, you can help everyone by helping them leave the area. Not only do you directly ensure that your neighbor gets to safety, you ease the burden on the public assets.

Does my employer required to pay me during a disaster?

Unless your company has specific provisions in place to do so or has informed you otherwise, no, do not expect them to pay you for the time you are away. Another benefit of declaring a SoE is that, if it gets to the federal level, you may be able to qualify for federal assistance.

References/further reading:
Wikipedia: Martial Law
Wikipedia: Price Gouging
Wikipedia: State of Emergency
New Jersey Office of Emergency Management
Seattle Office of Emergency Management

Find your local/state Office of Emergency Management at FEMA.gov

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