Emergency Legal Preparedness and Response

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Latest Resource

Primer: Opioid-related Public Health Emergency Declarations

This Primer on Opioid-related Public Health Emergencies provides key information and visual snapshots of federal, state, tribal, and local emergency declarations in response to the opioid crisis across the U.S. 


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Learning from the Flint Water Crisis: Legal Implications and Community Public Health Impacts

May 15, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EST. In 2014, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, the city of Flint, Michigan, switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River. As a result, lead from the aging service lines to homes leached into the drinking water and poisoned thousands of Flint residents. A team of Network attorneys recently published an analysis examining legal aspects of the Flint water crisis. In this webinar, two of the report’s authors will explore the complex legal arrangements at the heart of the crisis and review recommended changes to the relevant laws and their implementation. Then, a health disparities researcher and an activist and community organizer, both based in Flint, will jointly present a community-level response to the crisis. View the playback.

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From the Public Health Law Blog

Q & A on Public Health Legal Implications of the Flint Water Crisis

The Flint, Michigan, water crisis was a manmade disaster that resulted in the poisoning of thousands of children and adults after lead leached into the city’s drinking water; sadly, the harm to Flint residents is still impacting the community today. In this Q&A, Network senior attorney Colleen Healy Boufides, discusses a report she co-authored that examines the legal failures that lead to the crisis as well as what can be learned with regard to public health practice to protect other communities.

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From the Legal Assistance Library

Ebola Virus and Animal Quarantine

What tools does the law provide to protect the public's health when pets and other animals could be carriers of Ebola virus?

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Primary Legal Issues

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:

  • Inter-jurisdictional legal coordination of federal, tribal, state and local actors in real-time emergencies under changing legal norms
  • The ability to issue isolation or quarantine orders, or other social distancing methods, to control public health threats
  • Whether to close or dismiss schools, or other public assemblies, temporarily or for prolonged periods to prevent the spread of communicable diseases
  • The authority to mandate vaccinations for minors or autonomous adults, including health care workers
  • Licensing, credentialing and privileging out-of-state health practitioners
  • Inter-jurisdictional management of scarce resources including personnel, vaccines, shelter and sustenance
  • Omnipresent concerns over liability of public health practitioners during emergencies

Technical Assistance Capacity

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:

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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.