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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.

Statewide Emergency Plans

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.

Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans (CEMPs)

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:

National Incident Management System (NIMS)

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:

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. 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.

City Examples

County Examples

Hazard Mitigation Plans (HMPs)

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

Emergency Planning for Water Systems

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:

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:

Examples of Water Shortage Response Plans and Authorizations

Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs)

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:

Hazardous Materials Response Planning

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:

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

Proclaiming a Disaster or Emergency

These samples outline emergency/disaster management policies and plans

For examples of various emergency proclamations, see our page Emergency Declarations and Authority.

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

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.

Recommended Resources

Below are selected federal, state, and nongovernmental resources to help local governments develop, update, and implement their emergency plans.

Federal Agencies/Resources

Washington Agencies/Organizations

Nongovernmental Organizations/Resources

Last Modified: February 23, 2024