Local Government Emergency Planning
This page provides information and resources regarding local government emergency planning in Washington State, including comprehensive emergency management plans (CEMPs), continuity of operations, hazard mitigation plans, and other related topics.
It is part a series of MRSC's series on Emergency Management.
Washington state law requires all cities, towns, and counties to adopt and update comprehensive emergency management plans (CEMPs) and participate in emergency planning and disaster preparedness activities. In addition, local governments can adopt a variety of other emergency plans, some of which are required by the federal government in order to qualify for certain federal grant programs.
Emergency management in Washington State is authorized by chapter 38.52 RCW and Title 118 WAC. The Washington State Military Department's Emergency Management Division administers the state emergency management program.
For the current Washington Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan and other related emergency planning documents, see the Military Department's Plans page.
RCW 38.52.070 and chapter 118-30 WAC require each “political subdivision” (defined as any city, town, or county) to establish, by ordinance or resolution, a local emergency management organization or to be a member of a joint local emergency management organization in accordance with the state comprehensive emergency management plan and program.
Each local emergency management organization must develop and update a comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP). WAC 118-30-030(9) defines the CEMP as:
[A] written basic plan with elements which address all natural and man-made emergencies and disasters to which [the] political subdivision is vulnerable. The [CEMP] specifies the purpose, organization, responsibilities and facilities of agencies and officials of the political subdivision in the mitigation of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from emergencies and disasters.
Each CEMP must be based on a hazard analysis and must include the elements listed in WAC 118-30-060. This WAC is very detailed and even provides the recommended order and organization of the plan elements and annexes.
The plan must be periodically reviewed and updated, and at least once per calendar year the operational capabilities must be tested by an emergency operations exercise or by an actual local emergency declaration. The plan must be coordinated with the statewide comprehensive emergency plan.
RCW 38.52.070(4) requires jurisdictions that produce CEMPs to prepare and submit a limited English proficiency (LEP) communication plan for each limited English proficiency population that constitutes 5% of the jurisdiction's population or 1,000 residents, whichever is less. These figures are based on LEP population estimates from the state Office of Financial Management. However, as of 2020 these estimates are only available at the county level and are not available for cities, although some cities have prepared and adopted LEP communication plans using data from other sources.
In addition, RCW 38.52.091 authorizes local emergency management organizations to collaborate with other public and private agencies via a mutual aid or interlocal agreement. Special purpose districts can and should partner with cities and counties in their emergency management planning via these agreements.
For more information, see:
- WA Military Department: Emergency Planning Resources – Includes staff contacts, technical/planning assistance, checklists, guidebooks, templates, and more to help local, tribal, and state emergency planners develop emergency plans including CEMPs
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) was developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help emergency managers and responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines work together more effectively to handle emergencies and disasters.
Local, state, and tribal governments are required to formally adopt NIMS in order to receive federal preparedness grants.
For more information, see:
- FEMA: National Incident Management System – Includes resources, guidance, and training related to NIMS
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. Continuity of government is one of the required elements of the CEMP listed in WAC 118-30-060.
For helpful guidance, see the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency's Continuity Resource Toolkit.
- Battle Ground Municipal Code Sec. 2.74.050
- Fircrest Municipal Code Ch. 2.08
- Kenmore Pandemic Emergency Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Plan (2020)
- Kirkland Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Plan (2017) — Includes COOP and COG plan, with order of succession, in the event of a disaster or emergency. Includes adopting resolution. Marked as confidential but posted with Kirkland’s permission.
- Shoreline Pandemic Emergency Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government Plan (2020)
- Spokane Valley Continuity of Operations Plan RFQ (2017) – Request for qualifications for a consultant to assist with the development of a COOP. Also includes three separate addendums answering questions from prospective applicants
- Union Gap Municipal Code Sec. 2.88.020
- King County:
- Continuity of Government Plan (COG) — Plans available for review upon request
- Delegation of Authority During Absence of Executive and Line of Succession (Revised 2017)
- Klickitat County Elections Division Draft Continuity of Operations Plan (2015) — Draft plan and order of succession for the elections division in the event of a catastrophic emergency in which key leadership positions are unable to perform their duties
- Pierce County Code Sec. 2.118.042-.045 — Addresses succession of authority and continuity of government
- Walla Walla County Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) (2010)
The federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-390; also see 44 C.F.R. 201) requires state and local governments to develop all-hazard mitigation plans (HMPs) in order to be eligible for federal disaster preparedness grant funding.
The plan must be formally adopted by the jurisdiction's legislative body and must be updated at least once every five years to qualify for federal mitigation grant assistance.
Hazard mitigation is defined (see 44 C.F.R. §201.2) as "any sustained action taken to reduce or eliminate the long-term risk to human life and property from hazards." Examples from local plans include locating new public facilities outside of earthquake liquefaction zones, creating educational materials encouraging residents to prepare emergency plans and kits, restricting development in areas prone to potential landslides, or identifying potential funding sources to increase the redundancy and resilience of the water supply system, to name just a few possibilities.
The plan must include documentation of the planning process, a risk assessment with sufficient information to enable the jurisdiction to identify and prioritize mitigation actions, a mitigation strategy to reduce potential losses, and other details.
Hazard mitigation is an essential element of emergency management, along with preparedness, response, and recovery. However, it should not be confused with the comprehensive emergency management plans described above.
For more information, see:
- FEMA: Hazard Mitigation Planning – Includes useful handbooks and resources for creating and reviewing local government hazard mitigation plans, maps showing jurisdictions with approved plans, and hazard mitigation grant opportunities and guidance
Federal law includes a number of emergency preparedness requirements for drinking water systems. See 42 U.S.C. Ch. 6A, Subchapter XII: Safety of Public Water Systems.
Among other things, these provisions require each community water system serving more than 3,300 people to conduct a risk and resilience assessment (RRA) and to prepare or revise, when necessary, an emergency response plan (ERP) that incorporates findings of the RRA. Water systems serving 3,300 or fewer people are not required to adopt an RRA or ERP, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages them to do so.
For more information, see the following EPA resources:
- Emergency Response for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities – Includes resources on emergency planning, hazard resilience, mutual aid, decontamination, and more, as well as email sign-up
- RRA and ERP Primer for Very Small Drinking Water Systems (Serving Under 3,301 People) and Wastewater Systems – Encourages very small water and wastewater utilities to create an RRA and ERP and provides 10 additional quick and easy steps to prepare for disasters
The Washington Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WAWARN) allows public and private water and wastewater utilities to directly assist one another during emergencies. Before using this service, utilities must complete membership applications and submit mutual aid agreements. During an emergency, WAWARN members may request equipment and personnel from other member agencies.
In addition, state Department of Health regulations require many public water systems to prepare water system plans, including water shortage response plans. See WAC 246-290-100. A water shortage response plan should also anticipate the financial and revenue impacts of water conservation measures by including temporary rate increases or incorporating contingency and/or reserve funds for water emergencies into the budget process to help stabilize the water fund during these times.
For more information, see the following resources:
- WA Department of Health:
- Water System Planning Requirements
- Water Shortage Response Plans for Small Public Drinking Water Systems – Includes helpful guidance and templates
- Drinking Water State Revolving Fund – Includes emergency loan program and guidelines for emergency recovery activities
- WA Department of Ecology: Water Supply Monitoring – Links to information about past and projected future water supply conditions
Examples of Water Shortage Response Plans and Authorizations
- Bingen Ordinance No. 2015-03-643 (2015) – Authorizes mayor to declare water shortage emergencies, with public works superintendent or police officers responsible for enforcing escalating stages of water use restrictions
- Olympia Water Shortage Response Plan, 2015-2020 – Analysis of supply and demand, triggers for four stages of water shortage, and demand reduction options for each stage
- Othello Ordinance No. 1437 (2015) – Authorizes city administrator to declare water shortage emergencies, with public works director responsible for implementing escalating stages of water use restrictions
- Sammamish Plateau Water and Sewer District Water Shortage Response Plan (2018) – Detailed internal procedures and communication actions
- Walla Walla Resolution No. 2002-37 (2002) – Quantitative guidelines for determining if a water emergency exists, as well as possible water restriction measures
The federal Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. Ch. 84) encourages communities at risk of wildfire to develop community wildfire protection plans (CWPPs). These plans identify and prioritize areas for hazardous fuel reduction treatments and recommend measures to reduce the risk of structures igniting within the wildland-urban interface.
Many communities have integrated this information into their local hazard mitigation plans; for more information see the FEMA guidance on Integrating Community Wildfire Protection Plans and Natural Hazards Mitigation Plans.
Each CWPP must be collaboratively developed by the affected county, cities, fire departments, and state government, in consultation with the federal government and other interested parties.
The legislation requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior to prioritize projects that implement CWPPs and to consider recommendations made by communities that have developed CWPPs when developing the annual work program for hazardous fuel reduction projects.
For more information, see:
- WA Department of Natural Resources: Community Wildfire Protection – Includes resources and data for developing CWPPs, links to completed plans, and other resources to prepare for and mitigate the risk of wildfires
- U.S. Fire Administration: Fire-Adapted Communities – Resources to help communities identify fire risks, develop CWPPs or fire hazard mitigation plans, and reduce wildfire hazards; includes guide on Creating a Community Wildfire Protection Plan
- International Code Council: International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (2015) – For-purchase model code intended to supplement adopted a jurisdiction's building and fire codes and reduce the risks of wildland fires
- National Fire Protection Association: NFPA 11414: Standard for Reducing Structure Ignition Hazards from Wildland Fire (2018) – For-purchase publication provides information about assessing ignition hazards around existing structures and requirements for new construction to reduce ignition potential
Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), states are required to appoint a State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) to help protect communities from chemical hazards. The SERC, in turn, is required to divide the state into emergency planning districts and name a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) for each district. (Also see RCW 38.52.040, chapter 118-40 WAC, and chapter 70.136 RCW.)
Most LEPCs in Washington have the same jurisdictional boundaries as counties, but a few entities have established their own separate LEPCs. Tribes have similar responsibilities under EPCRA; some tribes have established their own Tribal Emergency Response Commissions (TERCs) or Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs), while others have entered into agreements with neighboring LEPCs.
Each local or tribal committee must develop an emergency response plan for hazardous substances and review the plan at least annually. The plan may be incorporated into the broader Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan (CEMP) mentioned earlier, or it can be adopted as a stand-alone plan. If developed as a stand-alone plan, care must be taken not to contradict any other emergency plans and to update the LEPC plan when needed to reflect changes in other emergency plans.
For more information, see the following resources:
- WA Department of Ecology: Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act – Includes information on the federal requirements, State Emergency Response Commission, and local and tribal emergency planning committees
- WA Military Department: State Emergency Response Commission – Includes information about the SERC, as well as useful resources for state and local hazardous materials response planning
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) – Includes summaries of EPCRA and resources for state, local, and tribal emergency planning
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
- Are You Ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (2004) — This guide was designed to help citizens learn how to protect themselves and their families against all types of hazards.
- Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) — Educates volunteers about disaster preparedness for the hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations
- Citizen Corps — A national network of local government, business, and community leaders who work collectively to prepare their communities for disaster and to make them more resilient.
- Washington Military Department, Emergency Management DIvision: Map Your Neighborhood —This program guides users through simple steps to help enhance preparedness for an emergency
- Washington Department of Public Health: Emergency Preparedness — This webpage offers links to resources for citizens as well as public health officials
- Serve Washington: Get involved in Citizen Corps programs — This webpage, hosted by the state-based chapter of Citizen Corps, connects interested volunteers to Washington state-based emergency prep programs like MyPI (for teen volunteers) CERTs, Medical Reserve Corps, Fire Corps and Neighborhood Watch programs
Sample City and County Guides and Resources
- Bothell Emergency Preparedness — This website with resources to help citizens prepare, including information and coloring kits for children
- Jefferson County Preparedness and Planning — This website includes specific resources for tsunamis, earthquakes, wildfires, power outages, and severe weather
These samples outline emergency/disaster management policies and plans
- Poulsbo Municipal Code Ch. 2.60
- San Juan County Code Sec. 2.48.100
- Spokane Municipal Code Ch. 2.04
- Vancouver Municipal Code Ch. 2.12 — Emergency Management
For examples of various emergency proclamations, see our page Emergency Declarations and Authority.
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
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.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: Debris Management Guide (2007)
- Washington State Department of Ecology: Disposing of Storm and Flood Debris (2007)
Below are selected federal, state, and nongovernmental resources to help local governments develop, update, and implement their emergency plans.
- 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.
- DisasterAssistance.gov — Overseen by FEMA this website combines the disaster resources of several federal agencies in a centralized, online location
- Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans: Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101 (2010)
- IS-908: Emergency Management for Senior Officials – Interactive 1-hour web-based course to introduce senior officials to the important role they play in emergency management; includes emergency management checklist for senior officials
- Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment and Stakeholder Preparedness Review Guide (2018) — Provides a 3-step process for conducting a threat and hazard identification and risk assessment
- 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.
- 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
- ADA.gov: 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
- StormReady — Offered through NOAA’s National Weather Service, StormReady helps community leaders and emergency managers strengthen local safety programs
- Washington Military Department: Emergency Management Division — Helps minimize impact of emergencies and disasters on people, property, environment, and the economy of Washington State by providing trained and ready forces for state and federal missions
- Washington State Enhanced Hazard Mitigation Plan—Statewide hazard mitigation plan and policies; contains useful hazard profiles, best practices, and guidance on how the state reviews and monitors local plans and project applications
- Threats & Hazards—Information about various potential hazards in Washington State
- Washington State Emergency Management Association — WSEMA is the statewide professional association of local, county, state, and federal emergency-management professionals working in the private and public sector
- Association of Washington Cities: Emergency Management Self-Assessment Guide (2003) — This informal quiz offers local government staff and elected officials a personal assessment of the community's emergency management risk
- King County Regional Coordination Framework (RCF)
- International Association of Emergency Managers — IAEM is the worldwide professional association of individuals employed in emergency management
- University of Washington Institute for Hazard Mitigation Planning and Research—Conducts research to enhance a community's ability to anticipate, respond to, and recover from disasters
- University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center — National clearinghouse for information on the social science and policy aspects of natural disasters
- National Fire Protection Association: Standard on Continuity, Emergency, and Crisis Management (2019) — Requires free registration
- William D. Ruckelshaus Center: Washington State Coast Resilience Assessment Final Report (2017) — Commissioned by local officials in Grays Harbor County, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and a U.S. representative's office, this report examines long-term resilience to growing threats such as erosion, flooding, landslides, storms, rising sea levels, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
- 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
- Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA):
- Risk Assessment Best Practices – Includes several best practices before, during, and immediately after disruptive events, including disaster preparedness, business preparedness and continuity, and enterprise risk management
- Disaster Recovery Cost Documentation – Best practices to help government agencies take all necessary steps to ensure proper documentation of disaster-related costs to support maximum reimbursement from all levels of government
- Disaster Recovery for Technology – Best practices to help government agencies minimize disruptions to government operations if computers or other advanced technologies are disabled following a disaster