What is a state of emergency?

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A state of emergency declaration does not inherently include travel restrictions. A state of emergency declaration does not inherently include travel restrictions.
What does a state of emergency mean for ordinary citizens?

As he has done several other times this winter, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency yesterday afternoon in advance of a severe snowstorm that was forecast for the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 12 into Wednesday.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what that means.

The declaration authorizes the state director of emergency management to coordinate storm preparation, response and recovery efforts with county and municipal emergency operations and governmental agencies, but what, exactly, does a state of emergency mean for ordinary citizens?

While the declaration can be issued in conjunction with other orders – as in this case where Christie also closed state offices Thursday for all nonessential employees – such orders are not an inherent part of the declaration of emergency.

What is a state of emergency?

According to the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, a state of emergency declaration authorizes the governor to speed state agency assistance to communities in need. It enables him to make resources immediately available to rescue, evacuate, shelter, provide essential commodities (i.e., heating fuel, food, etc.) and quell disturbances in the areas affected.

A state of emergency is generally declared when it is believed that a storm, impending storm or other type of natural or manmade disaster is severe enough to require state aid to supplement local resources in preventing or alleviating damages, loss, hardship or suffering. It may also position the state to seek federal assistance when the scope of the event exceeds the state's resources.

Does a state of emergency declaration direct citizens to take any particular action?

No. The declaration empowers the Office of Emergency Management to employ the resources and assets of state, local and private agencies to provide immediate assistance to localities. Typically, the New Jersey State Police, National Guard and departments of Environmental Protection, Transportation and Health are called upon to respond to the event, and other departments are added as needed.

After the governor issues the declaration, NJOEM puts the State Emergency Operations Plan into effect. It may also activate the State Emergency Operations Center to full 24-hour staffing to coordinate and direct state response and recovery operations. In addition, theOEM may call on a number of private agencies such as the American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster network to fulfill critical missions. The Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service often provides backup emergency communications, and the Civil Air Patrol may assist in search and rescue missions.

Does a state of emergency mean you must stay off the roads?

The declaration does not normally restrict citizen movements or activities. The state may limit access to affected areas due to concerns for public safety but will notify the public of these restrictions.

If it is necessary to impose vehicular or personal movement restrictions, the OEM will alert the public using all available means, including, but not limited to, the emergency alert system, urgent press releases, DOT highway signs, law enforcement teletypes, etc. Every effort will be made to facilitate safe passage for utility, health care and emergency services workers whose presence is necessary for public safety or in response to the emergency, according to the OEM website.

How long does a state of emergency remain in effect?

The governor will rescind the state of emergency when it is no longer needed to provide necessary support to localities or until the threat of impending danger from the event has passed.

Does a declaration of emergency bar the sale or provision of goods and services?

The governor's declaration does not address restrictions on the sale or provision of goods or services. However, a county or municipal agency may enact restrictions under its local emergency declaration.

Is it an employer's responsibility to pay employees who cannot get to work during a state of emergency?

The declaration does not mandate administrative policies for individual businesses or address workplace situations in which employees are unable to travel. Businesses must address hours of operation and compensation on an individual basis. Once a federal disaster is declared, employees unable to work may be eligible for unemployment assistance.

Are all state offices closed during a state of emergency?

The declaration does not automatically close state offices. Should it be necessary to scale back or close state offices, the governor will make an announcement through the media.

"Disaster" is defined by the state as any unusual incident resulting from natural or unnatural causes that endangers the health, safety or resources of the residents of one or more municipalities of the state, and that is or may become too large in scope or unusual in type to be handled in its entirety by regular municipal operating services.

See www.nj.gov/njoem/soe_faq.html#1.

 


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