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Emergency Planning at the Local Government Level

This page provides information and resources for Washington local governments on the emergency management policies and procedures that are mandated or recommended by federal and state law, including examples of local plans and policies.

It is part a series of MRSC's series on Emergency Management and Disaster Planning.

Local Emergency Management Plans

All cities, towns, and counties in Washington State are required to establish an emergency management organization and develop an up-to-date comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP), or to participate in a joint emergency management organization.

For more information, including examples of CEMPs and emergency management interlocal agreements, see our page on Local Emergency Management Organizations and CEMPs.

Emergency Planning Resources

The materials below can help a local government agency and staff plan emergency response efforts.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

U.S. Department of Labor: How to Plan for Workplace Emergencies and Evacuations (2001)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Fact Sheet on Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures (2005) – Addresses the appropriate use of disability related information when developing a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan Emergency Preparedness & Response – Offers resources to help state and local governments ensure that their emergency preparedness, response, and management programs are accessible to people with disabilities

Infrastructure Security Partnership: Regional Disaster Resilience: A Guide for Developing an Action Plan (2011) – The guide is designed for use by any practitioner or expert who wishes to improve the capabilities of their organization or community to withstand major incidents or disasters

Washington State Emergency Management Association: Elected Officials' Guide to Emergency Management (2003)

Citizen Preparedness

These resources, which are produced or overseen at various levels of governments, are designed to be used by citizens to help them become more prepared in the event of an emergency.

Sample Federal and State Guides and Resources

Sample City and County Guides and Resources

Emergency Planning Topics

National Incident Management System (NIMS)

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) was developed by FEMA to provide a system that would help emergency managers and responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines work together more effectively to handle emergencies and disasters. All Washington cities and counties are required to formally adopt the National Incident Management System (NIMS) through an ordinance, resolution, or proclamation.

Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) Plans

Continuity of Operations (COOP) is a federal government initiative, required by U.S. Presidential Policy Directive 40 (PPD-40), to ensure that agencies at all levels of government can continue performance of essential functions under a broad range of circumstances. Continuity of operations activities may be site-specific, jurisdiction-wide, or regional in scale, depending on the nature of the emergency.

Continuity of Government (COG) is the principle of establishing defined procedures that allow a government to continue its essential operations in case of a catastrophic event, including designating the order of succession for key positions.

For helpful guidance, see the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's Continuity Resources and Technical Assistance (2018)

City Examples

County Examples

Personnel - Reporting to Work in Declared Emergency

The samples below offer a range of approaches to how local governments expect staff to work during disasters and emergencies.

Assessment of Planning

The resources below can help in assessing emergency plans.

Proclaiming a Disaster or Emergency

Proclaiming a disaster or emergency can allow local governments to bypass normal procedural requirements related to expenditures and competitive bidding, among other things. (For more information on emergency procurement, see our Competitive Bidding Exemptions page.)

Emergency declarations can also potentially allow local agencies to receive state or federal emergency funding if such funding becomes available. Below are statutes and information related to emergency declarations, emergency expenditures, and other related topics.

General Legal Citations

  • Ch. 38.52 RCW — Emergency Management
    • RCW 38.52.070(2) — Emergency declarations for all "political subdivisions," defined in RCW 38.52.010 to mean "any county, city or town"
  • RCW 39.04.280 — Competitive bidding waivers for emergency public works and emergency purchases
  • RCW 39.80.060 — Emergency architecture and engineering contracts
  • Ch. 42.12 RCW — Continuity of Government Act in the event of enemy attack or catastrophic incident
  • WAC 246-100-070 — Enforcement of local health officer orders

City/Town Statutes - Emergency Expenditures

  • RCW 35A.33.080 — Code cities operating with an annual budget
  • RCW 35A.34.140 — Code cities operating with a biennial budget
  • RCW 35.33.081 — Non-code cities and towns less than 300,000 population operating with an annual budget
  • RCW 35.34.140 — Non-code cities operating with a biennial budget
  • RCW 35.32A.060 — Cities over 300,000 population

County Statutes

  • RCW 36.40.180 — Nondebatable emergency expenditures
  • RCW 36.32.270 — Competitive bidding waivers for emergency public works and emergency purchases (references RCW 39.04.280)

Policies and Ordinance Provisions

These samples outline emergency/disaster management policies and plans

Local Government Proclamations

Below are a few examples of local emergency or disaster declarations in recent years.

For examples of emergency proclamations related to the 2020 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, see our page Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Local Governments.

Snow, Ice, Winter Storms

  • Lacey Resolution No. 981 (2012) — Emergency due to snow and ice; resolution self-terminates after 30 days unless extended or terminated earlier by council
  • Port Angeles Resolution No. 1-06 (2006) — Emergency due to severe winds, waves, high tides, and rainfall; authorizes mayor and city manager to request state or federal assistance
  • Whatcom County Proclamation of Emergency (2017) — County executive's declaration of emergency due to winter storms and heavy snow, requesting state assistance
  • Wilbur Resolution No. 355 (2009) — Emergency due to extreme snow and possibility of flooding
  • Woodland Resolution No. 569 (2009) — Council’s declaration of emergency due to heavy snowfall, heavy rains, and warming temperatures. Also includes mayor’s declaration of civil emergency and delegation of authority to incident management team.

Drought, Wildfires

  • Grandview Water Emergency Proclamation No. 2001-03 (2001) — Mayor’s declaration of a water shortage emergency, imposing mandatory water use restrictions.
  • Kittitas County Resolution No. 2017-143 (2017) — Declares emergency due to a fire threatening structures, activates emergency operation center, and requires overtime and other records to be submitted to county auditor at conclusion of emergency
  • Port Townsend Ordinance No. 3131 (2015) — Declares emergency due to drought, possible water shortages, and fire hazard. Authorizes city manager to implement drought response plan, water conservation measures, and fire hazard abatement


Obtaining Services, Supplies and Materials

Obtaining services, supplies, and materials can be challenging for many local governments during and in the aftermath of a disaster.  The following resources below can help

  • Washington Intrastate Mutual Aid System — Offered through the Washington Military Department, Emergency Management Division, WAMAS  allows member jurisdictions throughout the state to efficiently and effectively share resources during disasters or emergencies, as well as anticipated drills or exercises.
  • Emergency Relief Program — Offered through the Washington State Department of Transportation, this program allow public works agencies in the state to coordinate resources with other signatory agencies and maximize funding reimbursement during disasters/emergencies
  • Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WAWARN) — WAWARN is a free, member-based organization that allows water and wastewater systems to receive rapid mutual aid and assistance from other members during an emergency. 

Waiver of Competitive Bidding Requirements

In the event of an emergency, competitive bidding requirements for purchases and for public works projects can be waived. For more information, see our Competitive Bidding Exemptions page or refer to our City Bidding Book and County Bidding Book.

Debris Removal After a Disaster

The following resources help to guide local government in debris removal after an emergency or natural disaster.

Emergency Planning Agencies and Organizations

Federal Agencies/Resources

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, whose primary purpose is to coordinate the response to a disaster that has occurred in the US and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities.  Washington is part of FEMA Region X.
    • — Overseen by FEMA this website combines the disaster resources of several federal agencies in a centralized, online location
  • Federal Highway Administration: Emergency Transportation Operations — Provides tools, guidance, capacity building and good practices that aid local and state DOTs and their partners in their efforts to improve transportation network efficiency and public/responder safety when an emergency either interrupts or overwhelms transportation operations.
  • StormReady — Offered through NOAA’s National Weather Service, StormReady helps community leaders and emergency managers strengthen local safety programs

Washington State Agencies/Organizations

Nongovernmental Organizations/Resources

Last Modified: March 23, 2020