Colorado... Emergency 'Plans' Raise Eyebrows Over Talk of Government Seizing Private Property

Submitted by SadInAmerica on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 2:33pm.

Language in Louisville's proposed emergency response plan, which would give the city the power to "commandeer private property" and "seize" buildings in a crisis, has given several of the city's elected leaders pause.

The emergency ordinance, which was supposed to have gotten an up or down vote earlier this month, was instead tabled until April so that the council can figure out how it wants to deal with what one member called the measure's "stark" language.

"I think any time you talk about government seizing private property -- that's not something I'm comfortable with," Councilman Bob Muckle said Tuesday.

Muckle said he understood that in extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary measures must be taken, but he said he wants to hear from the police chief and other city staff on exactly how they envision implementing Louisville's emergency measures.

The subject of municipal crisis management has taken on a special urgency in the wake of Japan's earthquake and tsunami and the resulting nuclear and humanitarian crises.

While Councilman Hank Dalton said it's unlikely Louisville will ever experience a crisis on the scale of what struck Japan or New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, it's important to enact policy that is crystal clear to the citizenry.

"It's just a sensitivity about what Louisville residents are going to see when they see it," he said. "If you just have the stark language without the context, you don't get that understanding."

In large part, the city's proposed ordinance is fairly straightforward.

It directs the mayor to declare a disaster emergency if the threat of severe damage, injury or loss of life is imminent as the result of a flood, fire, earthquake, storm, hazardous substance spill, civil disturbance, drought, blight or invasion -- among other calamities.

It lays out a line of succession in city government should anyone become incapacitated, allows the city to shut down roads, compel an evacuation and establish a curfew.

In fact, said Louisville Police Chief Bruce Goodman, much of the language was taken from ordinances in other places.

That includes Boulder, which updated its emergency response plan in 2009. Its protocols also give the city the power to "commandeer or use any private property," but doesn't assign it the right to seize anything.

Goodman, who has been pushing Louisville to adopt an emergency preparedness plan for several years, said he understands how some of the draconian language in the ordinance raises "red flags," including a section that empowers city officials to "seize any food, clothing, water or medical supplies necessary to sustain displaced disaster victims."

But he said the real life examples of a temporary takeover of property during an emergency are a lot milder than what the words connote.

"It can be as minor as using a piece of land to park emergency vehicles," Goodman said.

During forest fires, he said, helicopters have filled up buckets from private water sources. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government commandeered buses to move victims out of the danger zone.

The ordinance calls for the city to reimburse anyone for property taken during a crisis.

"I think in those terms, people understand it," Goodman said.

Judd Golden, chairman of the Boulder chapter of the ACLU, said Louisville has the right and responsibility to prepare itself for a possible disaster. But the ordinance should be open to judicial review in case the city overreaches.

"The government needs to have power, but it doesn't need to have unchecked power," he said. "This can be done in a way that eliminates the potential for abuse."

Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk agreed, saying that the language in the proposed ordinance caused him immediate concern. He said he will be asking questions of staff next month as to whether the city even needs an emergency preparedness plan or whether what's in place now is sufficient.

"Any time you do something like this, there has to be balancing involved," the mayor said. "I want to make sure we're proactive, but I also want to make sure we're being reasonable."



John Aguilar - March 23, 2011 - DailyCamera


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Submitted by SadInAmerica on Fri, 03/25/2011 - 2:33pm.