What Does 'State of Emergency' Really Mean?
Local and state officials across the U.S. are declaring states of emergency in their efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic. Some entire countries, including Italy and Japan, have also declared a state of emergency. But what does this phrase really entail?
Local and State Response
The answer varies a bit from state to state. Essentially, declaring a state of emergency gives the governor and his or her emergency management team a bit of extra latitude to deal with a situation quickly and with maximum coordination. Most of these powers are straightforward: The governor can close state offices, deploy the National Guard and other emergency responders, and make evacuation recommendations.
Other powers are specific to a certain situation. For example, in a blizzard, a governor can impose travel restrictions to clear roads for snowplows and other emergency vehicles.
Calling in the Feds
If a disaster is so severe that state and local governments don’t have the cash or the logistical ability to adequately respond, the governor can ask for a declaration of a federal emergency. In this case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does a preliminary damage assessment to help determine whether the governor should petition the president for a federal emergency declaration.
When the declaration from the president comes through, state and local governments can get funding and logistical help from the feds. What makes a crisis a federal emergency? The list is pretty broad, but FEMA shares some criteria here.