In general, a state of emergency is a declaration by the government that suspends normal governmental functions, alerts citizens to alter their normal behaviors, or begins implementation of emergency preparedness plans in certain geographic regions. States of emergency are declared at the municipal, county, and state levels.
- LOCAL DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY: Some local government officials declare a “local state of emergency” even before the Governor makes his or her declaration. However, a local state of emergency serves primarily to alert citizens and staff of the emergency and to enact certain local ordinances and procedures for dealing with emergencies. Although there is no specific statutory authority for declaring a “local emergency,” counties may use this as an order to trigger provisions of the emergency management ordinance that do not require the Governor’s declaration. For example, in a local state of emergency, the county can activate their emergency management ordinance, which waives time-consuming bidding requirements and other formalities. While the special powers that accompany a declaration by the Governor do not apply during a local emergency, a local declaration does allow the board of commissioners some of the other flexibilities to respond to the emergency while waiting for the Governor’s declaration. A local declaration can come before or after a state declaration.
- STATE DECLARATION OF EMERGENCY: When an emergency occurs that may overwhelm the resources normally available to the county, the Governor can declare a state of emergency. The Governor’s declaration of emergency authorizes the state and county to exercise emergency powers outlined in statute. A state declaration is typically the first declaration when a disaster strikes. Counties have special powers during a state declaration of emergency. Including these powers and how they are implemented in a county’s ordinance makes this vital information easily accessible and makes the authority and ability to take certain actions clearer. In the midst of an emergency, there is no time to waste trying to sort out the chair’s authority or how to implement the chair’s special temporary powers.
- FEDERAL (PRESIDENTIAL) DISASTER DECLARATION: When appropriate, the President of the United States may declare a federal disaster. The declaration might not be made until after the event has occurred. An effort by federal officials to assess damage may be employed to determine if a situation warrants a Presidential declaration. When the President signs a declaration of disaster, it allows FEMA to use its resources to help manage the emergency and allows other federal agencies to offer assistance in areas included in the declaration. In such a case, the citizens and businesses in any county included in the declaration may have access to federal grants and low interest loans to help repair and restore property. Any county included in the declaration may be reimbursed some of the costs of recovering from the disaster through FEMA. However, boards of commissioners must prepare to pay up front for emergency services, because the declaration may be delayed. Even when the declaration is immediate, reimbursement may take several months, or even years, to be processed. In order to be eligible for FEMA reimbursement, counties must comply with several conditions that require good record keeping. FEMA generally requires counties to comply with county established procedures while responding to an emergency. In the midst of a disaster, there may not be time to bid out emergency supplies or services according to the county’s regular purchasing ordinance or policy. Oconee County has an established exception in its ordinances for emergency purchases and the county will follows it when buying emergency supplies, which will align the county with regulations entitled to FEMA reimbursement. FEMA also requires that a mutual aid agreement be in effect in order to reimburse the county for money paid to other governmental entities for assistance during an emergency.