Legal Issues Workshop

With a huge Thanks to Nicole Cantrell who supported the 2011 Colorado Emergency Management Conference as a part of the Eastern Colorado Incident Management Team, the summaries below provide an insight into discussions/presentations made during the Legal Issues Workshop held on the final day of the Conference.


Legal issues in Emergency Management Liabilities in Ordering and Managing Resources

This presentation focused in the legal aspects and implications that must be taken into consideration when ordering resources for an incident. Bruce Holloman began his presentation by touching on the importance of an all hazards approach to incident response and the criticality of having response personnel properly trained before an incident occurs. Certain levels of instruction and training have been established for all levels of government and local responders. These levels directly correlate with the level of response that is required for each individual incident.

Resources must be trained to minimum standards, have obtained necessary training and credentials, and have the appropriate skill set needed to handle an incident or respond efficiently. If these minimum standards are not met, and an injury to person or property occurs, liability ensues.

Bruce discussed the NIMS resource management system and the fact that it's implementation is crucial in standardizing resource typing, credential, inventorying and identifying resource requirements. Resource issues must be discussed before an incident to effectively handle the needs of the situation. This pre-planning must discuss agreements, mutual aid and payment problems that may arise during an incident response.

Resource databases like Connect Colorado and the Colorado Emergency Resource Inventory Report and the ROSS system were discussed. These unique systems allow Emergency Managers and command staff to quickly identify resources that can be easily located and utilized during responses. As part of the State of Colorado Emergency Resource mobilization plan, and under Executive order 24-32.5-1210 CRS the resource inventory report is a website for Colorado agencies to enter resources. ROSS is a computer application that was developed and has been implemented through an interagency initiative by the National Wildland Fire Group to automate resource ordering and status processing to help facilitate coordination of resources.

Volunteer Liability - Volunteer Liability Presentation Slides
Timothy R Gablehouse

Mr.Gablehouse gave a very insightful presentation on the issue of liability and volunteers. The definition of liability is something that is hard to grasp, and he was able to offer a very clear picture of this concept. Liability as a volunteer can vary in scope, depending upon the worrying situation. Workers and their liabilities are very different from the liabilities of volunteers. The liability changes for a volunteer during an active disaster, and is clearly not the same as it would be during a planned exercise or meeting. Volunteers are always personally accountable, but the liability for their actions falls to the person who trained them and authorized them to work within the field. Managers can have liability even when the volunteer may not.
Governmental immunity is something that every employee should understand. Coverage or immunity is only offered to protect employees when they are working within their normal scope of work. Exceptions to this immunity include malicious or acts of bad faith, criminal acts, and civil right violations, among others.

Another key legal document that discusses the rights of volunteers to legal protection is the Federal Volunteer Protection Act. Individuals who are working without compensation and within their normal area of responsibility for a government or nonprofit agency will be covered by this act, but a long list of others who will not be offered protection were named. This created a lot of discussion among the group, since many people have volunteers working for them often during disaster, and spontaneous volunteers who self present to incident scenes. This discussion brought up the option of purchasing insurance for individual activities such as drills or exercises. It was mentioned that often time’s contractors will even work to bring this coverage in for agencies as part of the work they are contracted to perform. It is imperative to look for ways to protect volunteers through cooperative agreements or auxiliary status since accidents and incidents do occur during times of crisis.

IMT Teams
Andy MacDonald, Todd Manns, Don Whittemore

This presentation focused on the role of an incident management team during an incident. As Emergency managers it can be daunting to imagine a group of people you have never worked with coming in during a crisis and taking over command. The role of the IMT’s was defined to explain this procedure. Teams are not meant to be brought in to take over, but rather support the needs of the affected area. Whether authority is transferred to the incoming team, or maintained by the local command, the teams play a support role.

The capabilities of each type of team were explained, and the role of each position within the team was defined. It is clear that teams work very hard to train and drill as a cohesive group, and can bring additional support and expertise during a critical time. The salmonella incident in Alamosa was very unique; the town had been sued before the incident had even ended. The work that was put into the planning and documentation of the incident to be ready for litigation was an extremely interesting topic; this is one of the only instances of a case of a law suit occurring during an incident.