Federalism, Law, and the Ethics of Disaster Evacuations

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Originally Published In

Mathieu Deflem (ed.) Disasters, Hazards and Law (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 17) Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Page Numbers



Purpose – This study explores the relationship between federal, state, and local governments in regard to evacuation policies. The issue of evacuation enforcement by force is explored from a practical as well as moral perspective, and the overarching question of whether mandatory evacuation policy is merely symbolic is examined. Last, implications of policy making for vulnerable and marginalized populations is explored, and the question of whether criminalization of failure to comply with evacuation orders carries ill effects for certain segments of the population is examined.

Design/methodology/approach – This chapter first evaluates the legal logistics and policy foundation of evacuation orders at the national and state level. The chapter then explores the implications for local governments, notably first responders in implementing evacuation policy. Finally, policy recommendations related to improvements to existing evacuation policy for all levels of government are offered.

Findings – There is a gap in public policy between the expectations of the federal government and the implementation of evacuation policy at the local and state level. Policy and law changes that improve the ability of local governments to more effectively warn communities about the risks of noncompliance should occur in a way that minimizes the social disparities inherent in existing policy schemes.

Originality/value of paper – Evacuation policy is often considered as an afterthought to disaster planning and does not rise to the top of any government agenda until after a catastrophic event. This chapter encourages policy makers to be more proactive in developing evacuation policy that capitalizes on the effects of federalism to minimize the risks associated with natural and human-caused hazards.