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What to know about emergencies and executive orders

During the preparations for Hurricane Matthew in October, Gov. Nikki Haley issued Executive Order 2016-29, which ordered state, county and municipal offices in certain parts of the state to close, so those areas could evacuate.

However, some city officials did not see a written copy of the order that provided local officials the authority to determine which city employees and services would remain in place during the evacuation. As a result, some city officials were confused about exactly what the order meant for them as they prepared for the storm and whether all city officials were being asked to stay home.

South Carolina Code of Laws Section 25-1-440 (A)(6) allows the governor to "compel performance by elected and appointed state, county, and municipal officials and employees of the emergency duties and functions assigned them in the State Emergency Plan or by Executive Order." This means that, to the extent municipal officials have a role to play during an emergency, the governor has the authority to order those officials to carry out that role.

In performing their duties during an emergency, emergency personnel are expected to remain on duty to protect the public, as long as it is safe to do so. Haley's executive order during Hurricane Matthew accounted for this by stating, "This order affects all employees except for those emergency, governmental or essential personnel whose presence the director of said . . . municipal government office deems necessary."

Therefore, the governor's order provided local officials the discretion to determine which employees were to report for duty before, during and after the emergency. Municipal leaders should coordinate with their county and state-level counterparts in making decisions about staffing levels and facility availability.

Municipal officials have critical roles to play within the state's Emergency Operations Plan.

Planning, coordination and execution of the plan with county and state officials is critical during an emergency. In determining which municipal employees will remain on duty during an emergency, local officials should consider several questions:

  • What is the city's expected role in the state and local emergency management plan during the event?
  • Will conditions allow the city to carry out its role?
  • What assets will the city need before, during and after the emergency?
  • Will the city be able to execute its role without undue risk to its personnel?

Natural and man-made disasters will always be a threat to South Carolina. Cities and towns must be prepared to play an important part in dealing with them. Therefore, local officials should periodically review the roles of state, county and municipal officials and their authority so as to avoid confusion during an emergency.

More information.