The Public Emergencies Act of 1980, D.C. Official Code §§ 7-2301 to -2308, establishes a program of public emergency preparedness and provides the authority for emergency response. In the District of Columbia (the District), the Mayor of the District of Columbia (the District) has many of the powers reserved for Governors of states. Thus, the Mayor is authorized to declare an emergency or a public health emergency in certain situations. Such declarations, upon publication, trigger powers that allow the District to address the emergency situation. They are also necessary prior to requesting federal aid.
District law authorizes the Mayor to issue two types of emergency declarations: public emergency declarations and public health emergency declarations. A public emergency involves situations arising from disasters, catastrophes, or other emergency circumstances, including floods, earthquakes, fires, and serious civil disorders, that threaten the health, safety, or welfare of individuals in the District. A public health emergency is an emergency that involves a large number of deaths and/or serious human health disabilities in the District, widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent, use, dissemination, or detonation of a weapon of mass destruction, or another type of emergency event that requires the use of volunteer health practitioners. A public health emergency may not be declared unless a public emergency is also declared. In addition, the Mayor is authorized to declare a state of emergency for up to 30 days under the Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act, D.C. Official Code § 28-4102(b)(1).
Beyond emergency declarations, the Mayor has established an agency, the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), to ensure that the District is prepared to protect against, plan for, respond to, and recover from, natural and man-made hazards. In addition, the Mayor’s Emergency Preparedness Council (EPC) and the National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council (NCREPC) provide assistance and policy recommendations regarding emergency preparedness issues.
The District Response Plan (DRP), created under the Mayor’s authority to establish a public emergency preparedness program, unifies and coordinates the efforts of District departments and agencies, as well as non-governmental and voluntary organizations and regional and federal partners, when responding to all hazards. The District of Columbia’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is the central location where coordination efforts occur to ensure an effective response.
The Mayor is also authorized to enter into mutual aid agreements in response to emergencies and disasters. The District is a member of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), which provides for mutual assistance between states in certain situations and when certain requirements have been met.
4.2 Mayoral Authority to Declare Emergencies
The Mayor of the District of Columbia (the Mayor) has the authority to declare a public emergency under D.C. Official Code § 7-2304 and a public health emergency under D.C. Official Code § 7-2304.01. The Mayor is also authorized to declare a state of emergency in order to protect consumers from price gouging after natural disasters under D.C. Official Code § 28-4102(b). See section 4.3 of the Manual.
4.2.1 Public Emergency
- Emergency Executive Order Declaring a Public Emergency – In certain situations, the Mayor may issue an emergency executive order declaring the existence of a public emergency. D.C. Official Code § 7-2304(a).
See Appendix 2.0 for an example of a Mayor’s Declaration of a Public Emergency.
- Public Emergency Defined – Public emergency means any disaster, catastrophe, or emergency situation where the health, safety, or welfare of persons in the District is threatened due to actual or imminent consequences within the District of:
- Enemy attack, sabotage, or other hostile action;
- Severe and unanticipated resource shortage;
- Flood, earthquake, or other serious act of nature;
- Serious civil disorder;
- Any serious industrial, nuclear, or transportation accident;
- Explosion, conflagration, or power failure;
- Injurious environmental contamination that threatens or causes damage to life, health, or property; or
- Outbreak of a communicable disease that threatens or causes damage to life, health or property.
- Standard – The Mayor may declare a public emergency if the Mayor has the reasonable apprehension of the existence of a public emergency and determines that the issuance of an order is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, safety, or welfare. D.C. Official Code § 7-2304(a).
- Content of Order – The order must state:
- The existence, nature, extent, and severity of the public emergency;
- The measures necessary to relieve the public emergency;
- The specific requirements of the order and the persons upon whom the order is binding; and
- The duration of the order.
- Powers – The emergency executive order declaring a public emergency allows the Mayor to do the following:
- Expend funds to carry out public emergency service missions and responsibilities;
- Implement response plans without regard to normal operating procedures relating to the performance of public works, entering into contracts, incurring obligations, employment of temporary workers, rental of equipment, purchase of supplies and materials, and expenditure of public funds;
- Evacuate people to emergency shelters designated by the Mayor;
- Disconnect public utilities such as gas and electric;
- Destroy or remove property that is contaminated by any matter or substance that makes it deleterious to life or health, and, as such, an immediate or imminent danger to persons or property, and prohibit persons from contacting or approaching such property;
- Issue orders or regulations to control, restrict, allocate, or regulate the use, sale, production, and distribution of food, fuel, clothing, and other commodities, materials, goods, services, and resources as required by the District Response Plan (DRP) or by any federal emergency plan;
- Direct persons to reduce or alter business hours;
- Institute a curfew to keep people off public streets;
- Establish public emergency services units as the Mayor deems appropriate;
- Expand existing departmental and agency units within District government concerned with public emergency services;
- Exercise operational direction over all District government departments and agencies for the duration of the emergency executive order;
- Procure supplies and equipment, institute training programs and public information programs, and take all other preparatory steps, including the partial or full mobilization of public emergency services units in advance of actual disaster, to ensure adequately trained and equipped personnel are available during a public emergency;
- Take steps to request federal disaster assistance, including requesting pre-disaster assistance and certifying the need for federal disaster assistance;
- Commit District funds to alleviate damage, loss, hardship, and suffering as a result of the disaster;
- Prevent or reduce harmful consequences of disaster; and
- Detain persons who are determined, with probable cause, to be affected with a communicable disease likely to cause death or seriously impair the health of others.
- Duration – An emergency executive order declaring a public emergency issued by the Mayor under D.C. Official Code § 7-2304(a) is effective for no more than 15 calendar days from the day it is signed. However, if the Mayor determines that the public emergency no longer exists, the Mayor may rescind the order in whole or in part at an earlier date. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(a).
See Appendix 2.0 for an example of a Public Emergency Declaration Rescission.
- Extension – An emergency executive order declaring a public emergency may be extended for an additional 15-day period if the Mayor submits proposed emergency legislation to the Council of the District of Columbia (D.C. Council) and the D.C. Council enacts such legislation. Should extenuating circumstances, such as death, destruction, or other perilous conditions prohibit the convening of at least two-thirds of the members of the D.C. Council for consideration of emergency legislation, the Mayor may decide to extend the emergency executive order by up to 15 days, but only after making a reasonable attempt to consult with the remaining members of the D.C. Council. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(b)-(c).
- Publication of Order – The emergency executive order declaring a public emergency must be published in the District of Columbia Register and in two daily local newspapers, as well as posted in public places in the District as determined by the Mayor by regulation, as soon as practicable given the condition of the emergency. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(d).
- Violation of Emergency Order – An emergency executive order issued by the Mayor may provide for a fine of not more than $1,000 for each violation. D.C. Official Code § 7-2307.
See Appendix 3.0 for a declaration of Public emergency flowchart.
4.2.2 Public Health Emergency
- Emergency Executive Order Declaring a Public Health Emergency – When the Mayor issues an emergency executive order declaring a public emergency, the Mayor may also issue an additional emergency executive order declaring a public health emergency. D.C. Official Code § 7-2304.01(a).
See Appendix 2.0 for an example of a Mayor’s Declaration of a Public Health Emergency.
- Standard – The Mayor may declare a public health emergency if the Mayor has reasonable cause to believe there is an imminent hazard or actual occurrence of any of the following:
- A large number of deaths in the District;
- A large number of serious or long-term human health disabilities in the District;
- Widespread exposure to an infectious or toxic agent that poses a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people in the District;
- Use, dissemination, or detonation of a weapon of mass destruction, as defined by D.C. Official Code § 22-3152(12); or
- Other emergency events that create an acute and immediate need for volunteer health practitioners.
- Content of Order – The order must specify:
- The existence, nature, extent, and severity of the public health emergency;
- The geographic areas subject to the declaration;
- The conditions that have brought about the public health emergency, if known;
- The measures necessary to relieve the public health emergency;
- The specific requirements of the order and the persons upon whom the order is binding; and
- The duration of the order.
- Powers – The emergency executive order declaring a public health emergency may include the following terms:
- Require that health care providers licensed in the District reasonably assist and not unreasonably detract from the ability of the District government to successfully respond to and control the public health emergency in accordance with the provisions of the DRP and D.C. Official Code §§ 7-131 to -144;
- Appoint licensed health care providers, either from the District or from other jurisdictions, as temporary agents of the District; provided, that such appointments are in effect solely for the duration of the public health emergency, without compensation and for the purpose of assisting the District in implementing the provisions of the District response plan and D.C. Official Code §§ 7-131 to -144;
- Exempt licensed health care providers, either from the District or other jurisdictions, from civil liability for damages for any actions taken within the scope of the provider’s employment or voluntary service to implement the provisions of the DRP and D.C. Official Code 7-131 to -144, except in instances of gross negligence, solely for the duration of the public health emergency; and
- Waive any licensing requirements, permits, or fees otherwise required by District law to allow health care providers from other jurisdictions to be appointed as temporary agents to respond to the public health emergency so long as the appointed temporary agents are licensed in their home jurisdictions in their fields of expertise.
- Duration – An emergency executive order declaring a public health emergency issued by the Mayor D.C. Official Code § 7-2304.01(a) is effective for no more than 15 calendar days from the day it is signed. However, if the Mayor determines that the public emergency no longer exists, the Mayor may rescind the order in whole or in part at an earlier date. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(a).
See Appendix 2.0 for an example of a Public Health Emergency Declaration Rescission.
- Extension – An emergency executive order declaring a public health emergency may be extended for an additional 15-day period if the Mayor submits proposed emergency legislation to the D.C. Council and the D.C. Council adopts such legislation. Should extenuating circumstances, such as death, destruction, or other perilous conditions prohibit the convening of at least two-thirds of the members of the D.C. Council for consideration of emergency legislation, the Mayor may decide to extend the emergency executive order by up to 15 days, but only after making a reasonable attempt to consult with the remaining members of the D.C. Council. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(b)-(c).
- Publication of Order – The emergency executive order declaring a public health emergency must be published in the District of Columbia Register and in two daily local newspapers, as well as posted in public places in the District as determined by the Mayor by regulation, as soon as practicable given the condition of the emergency. D.C. Official Code § 7-2306(d).
See Appendix 3.0 for a declaration of public health emergency flowchart.
4.3 Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act
4.3.1 State of Emergency
The Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act provides additional emergency declaration authority to the Mayor in order to protect consumers from price gouging after natural disasters. Within 48 hours of a natural disaster, the Mayor may declare a state of emergency for not more than 30 days. This declaration must be published in the District of Columbia Register and in two daily newspapers of general circulation as soon as practicable after the declaration. D.C. Official Code § 28-4102(b).
4.3.2 Natural Disaster Defined
Natural disaster means the actual or imminent consequence of any disaster, catastrophe, or emergency, including fire (but not fire caused by human error or arson), flood, earthquake, storm, or other serious act of nature, that threatens the health, safety, and welfare of persons or causes damage to property in the District. D.C. Official Code § 28-4101(1).
4.3.3 Anti-Price Gouging
During a declared emergency, it is unlawful for any person to charge more than the normal average retail price for any merchandise or services sold during the declared emergency. D.C. Official Code § 28-4102(a).
Violators of the Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act may be fined up to $1,000 and may have their license, permit, or certificate of occupancy revoked, suspended, or limited. D.C. Official Code § 28-4103.
4.4.1 Medical Reserve Corps
The Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) is a national network of volunteers, organized locally to improve the health and safety of the community. MRC units engage volunteers to strengthen public health, improve emergency response capabilities, and build community resiliency.
The District of Columbia Department of Health (DC Health) has established the District of Columbia Medical Reserve Corps (D.C. MRC), a cadre of trained and qualified volunteers to supplement public health and medical resources during emergencies and other times of community need, and to enhance the District’s capability. D.C. MRC volunteers include medical and public health professionals such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, and epidemiologists. Non-medical volunteers include interpreters, chaplains, office workers, legal advisors, and others to fill key support positions.
The D.C. MRC is primarily designed to assist and supplement the existing emergency medical response and public health systems in emergencies and does not replace existing emergency medical response systems or their resources. Volunteers may be requested to support large-scale, complex emergencies involving multiple jurisdictions and interagency operations, or smaller incidents involving a single jurisdiction or agency. D.C. MRC volunteers are required to register in DC Health database, http://www.dcresponds.org.
The Emergency Law Inventory (ELI), a tool developed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and practice partners, provides summaries of laws impacting volunteers who participate in preparing for and responding to disasters. https://www.legalinventory.pitt.edu/about.
4.5 Emergency Management
4.5.1 District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency
The Mayor has established the District of Columbia Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) to support and coordinate homeland security and emergency management efforts, ensuring that the District's all-hazards emergency operations are prepared to protect against, plan for, respond to, and recover from natural and man-made hazards. D.C. Official Code §7-2202(a).
A Special Event is a significant domestic or internal event, occurrence, contest, activity, or meeting that, by virtue of its profile and/or status, represents an attractive target for a terrorist attack. See 32 C.F.R. § 183.3. A national security special event (NSSE) is an event of national significance that, by virtue of its political, economic, social, or religious significance, may be the target of terrorism or other criminal activity. See Id. Examples of Special Events and NSSEs include presidential inaugurations, major international summits held in the United States (typically in Washington, D.C.), major sporting events, and presidential nominating conventions. More information about Special Events and NSSEs in the District can be found at: https://hsema.dc.gov/service/special-events.
4.5.2 Mayor’s Emergency Preparedness Council
The Mayor is authorized to establish the Mayor’s Emergency Preparedness Council (EPC) to continually re-examine the overall state of emergency and disaster readiness of the District, to provide a consistent network of District agency expertise to make the District a national leader in comprehensive emergency management and homeland security, and to make recommendations on improving District planning for, response to, and recovery from emergency and disaster events as well as emerging threats. Mayor’s Order 2012-82 (June 15, 2012).
Mayor’s Emergency Preparedness Council, https://hsema.dc.gov/page/district-columbia-emergency-preparedness-council.
4.5.3 National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council
The National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council (NCREPC) is an advisory body which reports to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Board of Directors. The MWCOG is an independent, nonprofit association that brings area leaders together to address major regional issues in the District, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. MWCOG’s membership is comprised of 300 elected officials from 22 local governments, the Maryland and Virginia state legislatures, and the United States Congress. NCREPC derives its authority from a Charter adopted by the MWCOG Board on November 13, 2002.
The NCREPC makes policy recommendations to the MWCOG Board through the Public Safety Policy Committee and makes procedural or other recommendations to the MWCOG Board or, through the MWCOG Board, to various regional agencies with emergency preparedness responsibilities or operational response authority. The NCREPC oversees and implements the Regional Emergency Coordination Plan (RECP); coordinates activities of the various Regional Emergency Support Function (RESF) Working Groups as they develop specific procedures and relationships; oversees the development of plan annexes and establishes such additional plan annexes as may be desirable; and develops training or tests of various components of regional emergency preparedness in conjunction with MWCOG's Chief Administrative Officers Committee (CAO).
National Capital Region Emergency Preparedness Council, https://www.mwcog.org/committees/ncr-emergency-preparedness-council/.
4.5.4 District of Columbia Emergency Support Function #8 Department of Health, Health and Medical Coalition
The District of Columbia Department of Health, Health and Medical Coalition (DC Health-HMC) serves as a strategic planning committee and advisor to the Director of DC Health (DC Health Director). As such, it fosters partnerships among government agencies, health care providers, and community partners to strengthen the District’s response to emergencies. DC Health-HMC facilitates information, communication and resource sharing and works to maximize the utilization of limited existing resources. It also coordinates trainings, drills, and exercises between state, local, and federal partners.
4.6 Emergency Planning
4.6.1 District Response Plan
The Mayor has authority to establish a public emergency preparedness program that utilizes the services of all appropriate District agencies. D.C. Official Code § 7-2302(a). The DRP was created pursuant to this authority, for the purposes of preparing against and responding to all emergencies and disasters. The DRP unifies and coordinates the efforts of District departments and agencies, non-governmental and voluntary organizations, and regional and federal partners that may be involved in emergency management and homeland security with the goal of protecting life and property and ensuring public safety.
4.6.2 Emergency Support Function #8 – Health and Medical Services
Emergency Support Function (ESF) 8 – Health and Medical Services provides coordinated District medical assistance and resources to respond to public health and medical care needs following a public emergency. Assistance provided under ESF #8 is directed by the HEPRA and is supported by several District agencies and private health service providers.
4.6.3 Emergency Support Function #13 – Law Enforcement
ESF #13 – Law Enforcement provides for the safety of citizens and security of property during public emergencies. It prescribes the procedures for the command, control, and coordination of District ESF #13 agencies to conduct emergency operations in the District. It also establishes interagency relationships with the ESF #13 federal law enforcement. In the District, ESF #13 is directed by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
During public emergency operations, ESF #13 manages and coordinates law enforcement activities, and provides personnel and equipment resources to execute response activities in the public safety and security area. Examples of the support provided under ESF #13 include:
- Supporting public safety and security operations in the field;
- Enhancing situational awareness at operations centers; and
- Aiding planning and decision making by the Consequence Management Team (CMT).
District of Columbia Response Plan, https://hsema.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/hsema/page_content/attachments/District%20Response%20Plan%202015.pdf.
4.7 Emergency Operations Center
The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) integrates regional, federal, and local information and communications on a daily basis, and serves as the main operational command and control center for consequence management during an emergency, disaster, Special Event, and NSSE in the District. During events or incidents that impact the National Capital Region (NCR), the EOC ensures information-sharing, coordination and communications with NCR jurisdictions utilizing a variety of communication tools.
The EOC maintains direct contact with NCR jurisdictions and federal counterparts via landline, hotlines, radio, WebEOC, closed-circuit television (CCTV), and other non-secure systems to ensure constant receipt and dissemination of information.
HSEMA Operations Division, https://hsema.dc.gov/page/hsema-operations-division.
4.8 Mutual Aid
The Mayor may enter into interstate civil defense compacts with states to provide mutual aid to meet any emergency or disaster from enemy attack or other cause, natural or otherwise. The form of the compact is specified in D.C. Official Code § 7-2209(a).
See section 12.6 of the Manual for information about mutual aid agreements related to mass fatality incidents.
4.9 Emergency Management Assistance Compact
The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is designed to provide for mutual assistance between the states that entered into the compact in managing any emergency or disaster that is duly declared by the Governor (Mayor) of the affected state(s), whether arising from natural disaster, technological hazard, man-made disaster, civil emergency aspects of resources shortages, community disorders, insurgency, or enemy attack. See D.C. Official Code § 7-2332.
EMAC was ratified by the United States Congress in 1996 by Public Law 104-321, making it the first national disaster-relief compact to be signed by the United States Congress since the Civil Defense and Disaster Compact of 1950. D.C. Official Code § 7-2332 provides the Mayor with authority to enter into EMAC. All 50 states, the District, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have enacted legislation to enter into EMAC.
EMAC offers assistance during declared states of emergency through a system that allows states to send personnel, equipment, and commodities to help disaster relief efforts in other states. Once the conditions for providing assistance to a requesting state have been set, the terms constitute a legally binding contractual agreement that by which the requesting state is made responsible for reimbursement.
The EMAC legislation helps resolve issues related to liability and responsibility for costs and allows for credentials, licenses, and certifications to be honored across state lines. See http://www.emacweb.org for more information.
4.10 The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act
The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) is a federal law that requires all Medicare-participating hospitals with dedicated emergency departments to provide appropriate medical screening exams to all individuals who come to the emergency department, regardless of ability to pay, to determine if the individual has an emergency medical condition. If an emergency medical condition is found, the hospital must either treat and stabilize the patient to the best of its ability or transfer the patient to another facility that has the capability and capacity to treat the patient. 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd.
Hospitals have expressed concern regarding their ability to comply with EMTALA requirements during emergencies. In response to these concerns, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a fact sheet in 2009 during the H1N1 pandemic to clarify options that are permissible under EMTALA. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Fact Sheet for Medicaid and CHIP Providers Influenza A (H1N1) Flu.
In addition to these options, waivers of EMTALA are possible during emergencies through Section 1135 of the Social Security Act. Additional information regarding 1135 waivers, including required elements, can be found at http://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/legal/Pages/1135-waivers.aspx.