What Does a State of Emergency Mean?

Several states have declared a "state of emergency" in response to the spread of the novel coronavirus officially known as COVID-19.

But what exactly is a state of emergency, and how does it affect day-to-day life?

A state of emergency is when a government official feels that action needs to be taken urgently. Typically, when a disaster has occurred or an event that might be severe enough to need aid or drastic action, a declaration is made. This authorizes the official to speed up assistance to communities and make resources available to whoever needs them.

According to the State of New Jersey's website, there are occasions where a state will seek federal assistance if the scope of what's required exceeds the current resources.

In terms of how the state of emergency impacts everyday life, this depends on the disaster that has occurred. In the U.S., these declarations are used when natural disasters or extreme weather hit the country. On a federal level, a state of emergency might be declared in the wake of a terrorist attack.

The declaration itself does not affect policies for businesses or cover employees who are unable to travel into work. It is for the business to address hours of operations and compensation, however if a federal disaster is declared, employees could be eligible for unemployment assistance.

iStock state of emergency
Stock image: State of emergencies are usually declared in light of a disaster event. iStock

In light of the COVID-19 virus, which was officially named by the World Health Organization (WHO), the following states have declared a state of emergency:

  • Massachusetts—Governor Charlie Baker made the declaration on March 10, 2020
  • Colorado: Governor Jared Polis declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020
  • Ohio: Governor Mike Dewine declared a state of emergency on March 9, 2020
  • Florida: Governor Ron DeSantis made the declaration on March 9, 2020
  • New York: A state of emergency was declared by Governor Andrew Cuomo on March 7, 2020
  • Kentucky: Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency for the State on March 6, 2020
  • Maryland: March 5, 2020, saw Governor Larry Hogan declare a state of emergency
  • California: Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4, 2020
  • Washington: February 29, 2020, saw the state declare a state of emergency

Alongside the COVID-19 outbreak, Tennesse declared a state of emergency when tornadoes raced through parts of the state in February 2020.

On a federal level, as per the 1976 National Emergencies Act, the president can declare a national emergency, however, they need to meet certain "procedural formalities" before using such powers.