Legislative Program Update

The Maine Emergency Management County Director’s Council (MEMCDC) has drafted proposed state legislation entitled “An Act to Establish the Ability to Declare a State of Emergency by Local Political Subdivisions.”  This legislation would give the power to local elected officials to declare a state of emergency and a list of authorities that could then be provided to local public safety and emergency management officials during a disaster.

The authority to declare a local state of emergency exists in thirty other states in our Nation. Some reasons for having the local power to declare a state of emergency include a response to an emergency event where there may not be time to process a state of emergency declaration request through MEMA and the Governor’s Office.  Example incidents could include an active shooter or terrorist attack, a hazardous materials release, an earthquake or a tornado.  Another reason may be that an emergency incident may be confined to a small location, and doesn’t warrant processing through MEMA and the Governor’s Office. This could include local flooded roads, a local forest fire sweeping towards a residential subdivision, or a very large urban fire. Another reason could be that the disaster event has caused damages to telephone lines and internet, and local officials might not be able to reach the Governor’s Office, especially if time is short.

Some of these authorities would include the power to order evacuations; to activate public warning systems; to suspend the enforcement of any local policies; transfer government staff and function to other duties; enlist volunteers; order dangerous processes and devices to terminate; provide temporary emergency housing; and control access to disaster areas.

If this legislation were enacted, no community would be required to declare a state of emergency.  However, if a community wished to declare a local state of emergency and assume certain disaster authorities, they would have the power and legal standing to do so.  These authorities would essentially be tools in your disaster tool box; allowing communities to use those tools needed to save lives, stabilize the emergency and protect property and the environment.

The Executive Committee of the Maine Association of Local Emergency Managers (MALEM) has expressed their favor for this draft proposed legislation.  However, the Executive Committee seeks the comments and opinions of the Association members.  The Committee wishes to ensure that there is support from the members and to ensure that we get the best legislative product that we can acquire.

An Act to Establish the Ability to Declare a State of Emergency by Local Political Subdivisions

Whereas the Governor may declare a State of Emergency for the entire state or a portion thereof; and whereas a municipal government may declare a state of emergency, if so described in a lawfully-approved municipal ordinance; most municipalities have not enacted ordinances awarding themselves the authority to declare a state of emergency, and counties do not have the authority to enact ordinances.

This leaves local emergency officials without the ability to effectively and quickly respond to local emergencies. This act describes the process for a local political subdivision to declare a state of emergency, and the authorities that would be available.

This Act would be an addition to current State Statute Title 37-B, Chapter 13.

Title 37-B, Chapter 13, MAINE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY

§ 781-A Local Emergency Proclamation

1. Local emergency proclamation. The elected officials of each local political subdivision of the State shall have the authority to declare a state of emergency within their jurisdiction. Emergency proclamations must be issued as follows: 

A. Whenever a disaster or civil emergency exists or appears imminent, the elected officials of the political subdivision shall, by oral proclamation, declare a state of emergency in the political subdivision or any section of the political subdivision. In addition, the Governor of the State of Maine may also declare a state of emergency in the political subdivision. A written copy of the declaration must be filed with the clerk of the political subdivision, as well as the Maine Emergency Management Agency, within 24 hours of the oral proclamation.

B. Subject at all times to the further direction of the Maine Emergency Management Agency or order of the Governor or the elected officials of the political subdivision, a declaration of a state of emergency shall activate the emergency plans applicable to the affected areas and is the authority for the deployment and use of any forces or resources to which the plan or plans apply.

C. After the declaration of a state of emergency and in addition to any other powers conferred by law; and not withstanding exclusive statutory authorities granted to the sheriff’s; the elected officials of the political subdivision may:

(1) Suspend the enforcement of any policy prescribing the procedures for conduct of business, if strict compliance with the provisions of the policies would in any way prevent, hinder or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency;

(2) Utilize all available resources of the political subdivision to cope with the disaster emergency;

(3) Transfer the direction, personnel or functions of local departments and agencies, or units thereof for the purposes of performing or facilitating emergency services;

(4) Authorize the obtaining and acquisition of property, supplies and materials pursuant to State Law;

(5) Enlist the aid of any person to voluntarily assist in the effort to control, put out or end the emergency or aid in the caring for the safety of persons. Employment of such persons by the local emergency management director shall comply with Sections 784-A and 823;

(6) Activate all locally-controlled public warning systems that are necessary to warn the public;

(7) Order the termination, temporary or permanent, of any process, operation, machine or device which may be causing or is understood to be the cause of the state of emergency for which this proclamation was made;

(8) Take whatever action is necessary to abate, clean up or mitigate whatever danger may exist within the affected area;

(9) Make provision for the availability and use of temporary emergency housing;

(10) The chief law enforcement official for the political subdivision shall have the authority to direct and compel the evacuation of all or part of the population from any stricken or threatened area within the State, if the chief law enforcement official determines this action necessary for the preservation of life or other disaster mitigation, response or recovery;

(11) The chief law enforcement official for the political subdivision shall prescribe routes, modes of transportation and destinations in connection with evacuations; and

(12) The chief law enforcement official for the political subdivision shall control ingress and egress to and from a disaster area, the movement of persons within the area and the occupancy of premises therein.

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