Despite significant reforms to state, tribal and local emergency laws over the past decade, regional legal responses to public health emergencies continue to be disparate and, at times, conflicting. Modern public health legal reforms offer an array of legal options for lawmakers and policy-makers, but do not always prescribe specific actions that legal and public health practitioners must take during emergencies. Rather, emergency laws generally present a menu of legal choices, often with little guidance for leaders making key decisions. This makes it challenging for public health leaders to ensure that the decisions they make during health emergencies– on issues including surge capacity, quickly spreading infectious diseases and allocation of scarce resources– fall within traditional legal norms.
This table provides state statutory and regulatory authorities for emergency declarations in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
The story of Nurse Kaci Hickox, who famously fought quarantine attempts after returning from Seirra Leone, is a cautionary tale for those charged with protecting the public’s health from infectious diseases like Ebola.
The Network was contacted by the director of a local health department in Arizona who asked for information, including model policies, regarding isolation and quarantine procedures. The Network provided the requestor with a number of resources, both general and specific to Arizona.
Legal authorities vary across states, tribal governments and localities during declared emergencies. As seen during the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak, jurisdictions may take divergent legal approaches in their responses to national or regional public health threats. Conflicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions further complicate key decisions on when or how to respond.
Public health officials may face many critical legal and policy decisions during public health emergencies, including:
The Network for Public Health Law can provide legal guidance, training and support to address these and other legal and policy issues in emergency preparedness. These issues may be addressed during non-emergencies through advance planning and education, innovative exercises and other training efforts. During emergency declarations, the Network can provide real-time legal guidance to help public health leaders as they respond and make critical decisions with potential legal ramifications.
For legal technical assistance and support with emergency legal preparedness and response:
You can also call your region to get legal assistance at:
The Network will not share your contact information with external parties without consent.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.