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Public health emergencies may arise due to the emergence of a novel disease in another continent that makes its way to the United States (U.S.), an act of terrorism involving an improvised nuclear device, or a severe hurricane or other weather event. No matter the cause, the government must be prepared to address resulting legal issues. Indeed, the outbreak of Ebola in 2014 brought new awareness of the importance of legal preparedness for public health emergencies. 

The District of Columbia Public Health Emergency Law Manual (the Manual or the D.C. PHELM) is a living document, intended to serve as a resource for public health practitioners, lawyers, and judges, to assist them in preparing for public health emergencies in the District of Columbia (D.C. or District). Because laws are constantly being modified and changed, users of this Manual should access relevant statutory and regulatory provisions and case law to ensure up-to-date information.

Each section of the Manual is designed to be read alone; however, for a more in-depth understanding of the potential legal issues that may be encountered, it is advisable to review the entirety of the Manual. To facilitate your understanding of these legal issues, cross-references are provided throughout the Manual. In addition, comment boxes can be found throughout the Manual, classified into the following three categories:

General – comments that are broadly applicable

Judge – comments that may be particularly relevant to the judiciary

Caution – comments that indicate potential areas of concern or liability

This manual is available electronically at A downloadable version is available at the same website for printing. 

We are grateful to the writers of public health emergency law manuals, bench guides, and bench books in jurisdictions around the country for their aid and inspiration as we drafted the Manual, available at Where possible, links to cases are provided by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School under Creative Commons license NC-SA 2.5. Links to the District Code are provided courtesy of the District of Columbia Council (D.C. Council) web site, currently in beta mode. Links to the District Municipal Regulations and Mayor’s Orders are provided courtesy of a web site maintained by the Secretary of the District of Columbia Office of Documents and Administrative Issuances.

The Manual does not represent an official legal opinion of the District of Columbia and does not constitute legal advice. Users of the Manual should consult with a licensed attorney and conduct further research to account for specific factual scenarios as well as changes in law made after publication of this resource. While every effort was made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of this Manual, no warranty is made that this information is accurate or complete.

The Manual, written in collaboration with the Center for Public Health Practice at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (Principal Investigator, Tina Batra Hershey, JD, MPH), was made possible with funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hospital Preparedness-Public Health Emergency Preparedness Cooperative Agreement.

This effort would not have been possible without the Advisory Committee, who volunteered time amid their busy schedules to meet, review, edit, and provide expertise on the content and format of the Manual. Current and former members include:

Crystal L. Banks
Deputy Director for Training, District of Columbia Courts

Elaine Block
Ethics Officer, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia

Mikelle L. DeVillier
General Counsel, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia

H. Clifton Grandy
Senior Court Manager, District of Columbia Courts

Fernando Rivero
Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia

Kenneth H. Rosenau
Private Bar Member

Rudolf L. (Rudi) Schreiber, Sr.
Deputy General Counsel, DC Health

Teresa D. Spada
General Counsel, District of Columbia Courts

I would like to acknowledge the following persons DC Health who provided tremendous support to this initiative: Torrance O. Hubbard (Senior Deputy Director, Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration); Brenda Kelly (Deputy Director for Operations); John Davies-Cole (State Epidemiologist); Phillip L. Husband and Olga Clegg (Office of the General Counsel); Debra R. Howe (Zika Virus Project Manager); Jennifer Malow (Intern/Proofreader); Joy McFarlane-Mills (Senior Biologist, Animal Services Program); Suja Madhavan (IT Project Manager); and Brian W. Amy (Chief Medical Officer), who had the vision to initiate this Manual.

Marie-Claire Brown
Senior Assistant General Counsel
DOH Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Administration
Chair, PHELM Advisory Committee

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