Mayor declares civil emergency related to coronavirus (updated)

This afternoon, Mayor Durkan declared a civil emergency related to the outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

(UPDATE 3/4:  additional information added below in several places and at the end)

Under the Seattle Municipal Code, the Mayor may declare a state of civil emergency, which authorizes her to exercise a set of emergency powers, including:

  • entering into contracts and incurring obligations necessary to address the emergency without going through the normal requirements for bidding processes, public notices, and other local, state and federal regulations;
  • circumventing the ordinary permitting process as necessary to facilitate emergency response;
  • ordering the closure of businesses;
  • prohibiting the sale of firearms, ammunition, and alcohol, and the carrying of weapons;
  • ordering the closing of public streets;
  • ordering a curfew;
  • ordering economic controls as necessary, including price controls on necessities;
  • requesting state and federal aid;
  • directing local public and private health facilities to provide emergency medical care;
  • authorizing the shutoff and/or restoration of utilities.

The law anticipates that the City Council will meet, if possible, within 48 hours of the declaration to vote to either confirm, modify, or reject the emergency declaration. UPDATE 3/4: the Council is meeting on Thursday, March 5, at 1pm in Council Chambers to take up the Mayor’s emergency declaration.

The Council may also repeal the state of emergency declaration at a later point in time by a 2/3 vote. However, the City Charter allows the Mayor to take command of the police force upon declaring an emergency, a power which the Council may not revoke or overrule (other than by removing the Mayor from office).

The Mayor’s declaration specifically invokes her power to waive permitting requirements required by city codes and SEPA to implement facilities required for the COVID-19 response.

It also delegates to her department heads the authority to permit the opening and closure of city facilities and equipment within their respective departments in order to facilitate “supplying necessary food, clothing, medicines, shelter or transportation to care facilities for people in need of assistance”, as well as to reassign personnel, authorize overtime, purchase necessary supplies and materials, and secure volunteers and donations. It does not, however, seem to grant those department heads independent authority to close facilities in order to prevent the further spread of the virus (I’m checking with the Mayor’s Office on that). UPDATE 3/4: The Mayor’s Office provided the following response: “Exercise of emergency powers is generally a two-step process: A Proclamation of Civil Emergency followed by issuance of more specific Emergency Orders using the powers outlined in the Proclamation and informed by factual developments. Decisions to close public facilities will be made in accordance with guidance provide by Public Health – Seattle & King County. As of this moment, PHSKC has not issued such guidance. Should the need arise to close public facilities, we anticipate that would be set forth in an Emergency Order.”

Accompanying the Declaration of Civil Emergency is a Mayoral Directive to city department heads that does several things:

  • It officially activates the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) from 9am to 1pm Monday through Friday, and deploys extra support staff to the EOC.
  • It directs all departments to operationalize their Continuity of Operations Plans by March 13, for the continuity of critical city services during an emergency.
  • It prioritizes efforts around outreach and services to vulnerable populations, with HSD and DEEL on point to ensure at-risk populations receive information and are connected to services. In addition, HSD will be the lead agency for distributing guidance to case managers and for protocols for Senior Centers; it will also coordinate development of a plan for managing the impacts of COVID-19 to the city’s homeless populations. There is no specified timeline for that plan (I’m checking on that too).  UPDATE 3/4: The Mayor’s Office responded: “We’ll have more info on HSD’s plans in the coming days. In the meantime, here’s HSD’s blog posts detailing the work they’ve done thus far:
  • It restricts city employees’ travel; only “essential city business travel” will be authorized.
  • It calls for guidance on safe practices to be disseminated to all city employees.

In a press statement accompanying the Declaration f Civil Emergency, Mayor Durkan said:

“After consulting with local and statewide health officials, members of my Cabinet, and other elected leaders, I have taken the precautionary measure of issuing a Proclamation of Civil Emergency in Seattle. Because this is an evolving situation, we will continue to work in partnership with County and state officials to meet the immediate needs of our communities, especially vulnerable individuals and individuals experiencing homelessness. As we prepare to take additional steps in Seattle, we know that our City will need additional resources and help from both our state and federal government. For example, we are looking to our partners to increase the availability of testing in a way that does not overwhelm the health care system, but meets the growing need,” said Mayor Durkan. “We also need members of the public to be our partner in these efforts. Practice good hygiene, make a plan for yourself and your loved ones, and reach out to your neighbor to offer assistance.”

This post will be updated as more details of the Mayor’s emergency response become known.

UPDATE 3/4: A few additional notes on the Mayor’s emergency declaration.

  • The Mayor’s Office says that it has not yet made a budget request to the Council related to COVID-19 response. “The City’s COVID-19 response will require using all resources currently available. But we know that we need to access state and federal resources and financial mechanisms to truly meet the growing need.”
  • The Mayor’s Office would not provide any information on whether the Mayor has already invoked her emergency powers or will imminently do so, but said, “We’ll have more info for you in the coming days on actions stemming from her emergency powers. The actions will center around meeting the immediate needs of our communities, especially vulnerable individuals and individuals experiencing homelessness.”
  • The departmental Continuity of Operations Plans mandated by the Mayor’s directive are due to the Mayor’s Office by March 13th. According to the Mayor’s office, they are not provided publicly “due to sensitive information.”