Category: Areas of Practice

Federal legislation requires that municipalities plan for emergencies. Industry is required to cooperate by sharing information and giving notice of chemical releases and spills. Each city and town must have an emergency management plan and make it work.

Local disaster preparedness, designed for natural disasters, now will focus on man-made disasters. Local industry, accustomed to doing business in private, now will make public Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), chemical inventory reports, and spill notifications. Worker Right-To-Know, traditionally protected by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard, now will be supplemented by Community Right-To-Know. There is only limited opportunity to protect trade secrets.

Those who are subject to these regulations should get familiar fast if not already.

Arising out of emergency management are claims that can be made against local governments for mistakes. Liability can arise in the construction of roads, public buildings, drainage systems, water and sewer systems, and dams and seawalls; maintenance of drainage and flood control structures; issuance of building permits contrary to local regulations; approval of sub-divisions not meeting standards; errors in evaluation of permits and plans; inspection of buildings; and dissemination of confidential information.

There is, of course, a qualified immunity from suit for government officials who make negligent mistakes in discretionary decisions within the scope of their responsibilities.

We advise on legal issues in emergency management and recommend specific strategies to minimize liability. We also recommend to our public clients how to use existing laws to protect water supplies, minimize flood damages, and prevent contamination by hazardous materials, as well as how to adopt new legislation and local regulations to help prevent emergencies before they occur. For our corporate clients, we prepare tactics and timetables for compliance with the new reporting obligations, formulate new approaches for what is known as "risk communication," familiarize managers with Right-To-Know laws, and predict where this field of regulation is going. To this end we are familiar with the model state disaster management statutes published by the Council on State Governments, state laws dealing with lawsuits against municipalities for money damages, court decisions regarding sovereign immunity, and emerging issues as society moves to restrict the hazards posed by chemicals in the environment.