Amanda Ripley


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One Long National Emergency

3rd Nov 2009 posted in Disaster Behavior

We all know by now that President Obama declared H1N1 (swine flu) a national emergency the other day. But it may come as a surprise that Americans have been living under an almost continuous national emergency for many decades.

In fact, Congress has been throwing around emergency powers since at least 1792—when it called for the militia to suppress a whiskey-tax revolt in several states. These days, most “national emergencies” are actually global—the declarations are used to prohibit trade with foreign countries under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (case in point: the October 27 continuation of the national emergency with respect to Sudan).

With the H1N1 declaration, the White House emphasized that it was more of a preemptive, administrative necessity, allowing the administration to waive federal requirements which could prevent or slow treatment measures. According to the Wall Street Journal, the declaration was “aimed at clearing government red tape before it can become an obstacle for health-care providers.” OK, fine. Perhaps the more interesting point is that it takes a national emergency to trim back red tape…

A full list of declared national emergencies from 1976 to 2007 can be found here (PDF-warning!).