State of Emergency: How Far Can the Government Go?

State of Emergency: How Far Can the Government Go?

( – Whether it be a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, or a viral pandemic, our government’s job is to protect American citizens in an emergency. But exactly how far can the government go?

The United States was built on freedom. However, sometimes the only way to protect people in an emergency is to restrict their freedoms. For example, beaches are closed during a hurricane, and on 9/11, all flights were grounded.

What can the American government do when faced with an emergency that threatens the nation?

Shelter in Place

Orders to shelter in place are given in a variety of emergency situations. You can hear this term during tornados, active shooter situations, chemical threats, and a myriad of other emergencies.

What exactly does shelter in place really mean?

Shelter in place means, quite simply, stay inside where it’s safe. When evacuation isn’t a viable option, staying put is the safest choice. During an active shooter situation, this can mean staying in a classroom. For a tornado, it could mean going to a basement or storm shelter.

During a viral outbreak, it means staying at home. In this case, these orders will be longer-term than something like an active shooter scenario.

Be aware that sheltering in place is not the same as being on house arrest. You’re still allowed to leave your house, you just need to have a good reason. For example, you can buy food or walk your dog.

However, you may face fines for not obeying these orders. Violating shelter in place orders is a misdemeanor. You could also be arrested.

Curfews and Closures

During an emergency, the government may decide to cancel events and close businesses. Officials may also institute a curfew.

Events are canceled when they’re deemed too risky to the public due to a safety threat. For example, a terrorist threat or an impending storm.

During a public health crisis, such as the coronavirus outbreak, businesses can be forced to close as well. Those that refuse to close their doors could risk losing their business license and even having their building boarded up.

When federal, state, or local governments impose curfew laws, it defines the times that citizens are not allowed to be out of their homes and businesses must close. State and local governments have more powers to enact curfews than the federal government does.

It’s common to see these restrictions when there’s a public health emergency. As with shelter in place orders, violating a curfew is a misdemeanor punishable by fines and arrest.

Canceling Elections

A big question that came to the forefront during the coronavirus outbreak is whether or not the government can cancel elections. Although this is a complicated issue, the short answer is no.

Elections can be postponed, but they cannot be canceled in the US. Many people have asked if the president could cancel the election, however, that power lies only with Congress.

Due to a natural disaster or public health threat such as a viral pandemic, states themselves can choose to postpone their elections if they feel it’s unsafe for the public to go to the polls. Several states have chosen to do this already this year, but the possibility of the 2020 election being canceled completely is very unlikely.

In the Midst of an Emergency

There are many steps that the American government can take to keep us safe during an emergency. Although some of these may seem to infringe on our rights, sacrificing a few of our freedoms can mean saving lives.

In an emergency, we must put our faith in the people we have chosen to lead our country. We may question their choices after the fact, but when we are in the midst of a true crisis, keeping American citizens safe needs to be the top priority.

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