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Posted on: April 28, 2020

What is a State of emergency?



From the Office of the City Manager


April 28, 2020




What is a state of emergency?


A state of emergency allows governments to temporarily step over red tape and address threats like a pandemic with greater flexibility, and it lets residents know that a matter is serious, and that it’s being taken seriously.


A local state of emergency is a resolution enacted by government officials — in our case the City Council. It is commonly used to strip away bureaucracy not to add to it.


Essentially, the city of Milton can access resources and facilities they may otherwise require a great deal of paperwork to leverage or for which we would later owe debts. The declaration can be key to obtaining assistance from others to include federal and state government.


The power, granted by Florida’s emergency management statutes, allows counties and cities to execute a limited version of the powers granted to a state governor under a statewide state of emergency.


Typically, a declaration allows “procedures and formalities” to be waived for the following actions:

  • Performance of public work and taking whatever prudent action is necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the community
  • Entering into contracts
  • Incurring obligations
  • Employment of permanent and temporary workers
  • Utilization of volunteer workers
  • Rental of equipment
  • Acquisition and distribution, with or without compensation, of supplies, materials and facilities
  • Appropriation and expenditure of public funds


What does that mean for residents?


The intent behind the action is to allow the government to protect and support citizens while acting against a threat, such as major hurricane catastrophes and, now, the spread of COVID-19.  It also means that if anyone wasn’t paying attention to COVID-19 or considering it as a serious and potentially disruptive threat, local governments thinks it is just that.


A state of emergency declaration is often an effective way to signal that.


What does it not mean?


Declaring a state of emergency gives governments the powers to quickly mobilize without getting caught up in red tape, but it doesn’t give the City power to infringe on rights or impose undue restrictions on residents.


It isn’t a precursor to martial law or a mandatory quarantine, though those measures have been taken in places around the world in response to COVID-19.


Its powers are explicitly to move without being bogged down in paperwork, not to exercise powers the City did not already have in some more restricted form. It’s just a way for the City to act quickly and to let residents know that this is a serious matter. It’s nothing more, and nothing less.


Current Situation


The Federal guidelines and State Executive Orders provide key guidance, recommendations and required actions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) across all aspects of our economy and society.


Many of the higher-level guidelines and orders remain in place now; and some will for the foreseeable future while others are due to expire at the end of April. It is appropriate in this pandemic to coordinate locally and provide a framework that can be managed and implemented. In line with the Federal Guidelines – “Opening Up America Again”; a phased approach is being advocated. Key to success throughout implementation of this plan and these phases is strict adherence to recommended social distancing guidance from the CDC and State and local Public Health officials.


The primary objectives of a phased approach to reopening is to mitigate the risk of resurgence in positive cases, continue to protect the most vulnerable population, and ensure healthcare system capacity while providing an opportunity to responsibly re-establish economic activity.


One must however be aware that municipal home rule powers are inferior to state law and must fail where a conflict exists.


The public needs to understand the city did not issue an edict directing non-essential businesses to close. Nor did it issue a stay at home order. The city for the reasons cited above declared a local state of emergency.


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