What is a "state of emergency"?


When Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency earlier this morning for 34 coastal counties as Tropical Storm Colin threatened the state, it brought back memories of the 2015 hurricane season, when a state of emergency was declared in advance of Tropical Storm Erika.

But Erika fizzled out near eastern Cuba, and many critics felt the state's citizenry was put under undue alarm.

At the recent Governor’s Hurricane Conference in Orlando, the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s communications director explained, “Just because you hear ‘state of emergency’ does not mean we are going to have to evacuate the whole state.”


It is really an administrative and legal tool, said Aaron Gallaher, that enables the governor to bestow certain executive powers on the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Bryan Koon.

“A state of emergency empowers emergency management officials statewide to be able to move in a more expeditious manner, to move resources, material, money in some cases, and empowers director Bryan Koon to become the state coordinating officer,” Gallaher said. “He is then able to marshal those resources from a coordinated effort from within the emergency operations center.

“It just gives us a lot more flexibility to respond to the needs of the folks on the local level,” Gallaher said. “Given the situation that we had with Erika, as the first storm that could impact us in quite a while, it was the prudent decision to go that route.

“The phrase ‘state of emergency’ will pique people’s interest. We need to do a better job to explain up from what it means. Too often we hear ‘state of emergency’ and that is the headline instead of the explanation. It is one of the steps in the process that is designed to keep everyone safe.”

Those steps could include, if safe, easing weight restrictions on roads and bridges to hasten the delivery of needed materials, changing the direction of traffic lanes to expedite evacuations, waiving the collection of tolls, and activating agreements with other states and the federal government in the preparation and relief effort.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: June 6, 2016
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