Legal preparedness is an essential component of effective public health emergency response, evinced recently by the numerous emergency declarations issued at the federal, state, and local levels to address the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak. Although the impact of these emergency laws at the federal and state levels has been studied extensively, the scope and role of local emergency laws have not been similarly assessed. In this article, we examine key issues of emergency laws among select US localities in the context of the recent H1N1 outbreak and their application to volunteer health professionals, who are often needed to meet patient surge capacity during local emergencies.
Localities represent the front line of emergency preparedness and must address an array of legal challenges before and during declared emergencies. Local legal preparedness differs based on overarching restrictions such as the degree of home rule provided to localities under state law. Some localities take innovative legal approaches to address emergency preparedness. Although beneficial in many respects, these variations add additional complexity to legal preparedness and intensify the need for predisaster planning, exercises, and coordination. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2009;3(Suppl 2):S176–S184)