Legislature Considers Bill Allowing Local Elected Officials To Order Mandatory Evacuations

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In the 2011 legislative session a bill to allow mandatory evacuation orders from local officials was considered, and rejected, by the legislature because it might have let those orders be issued by bureaucrats instead of elected officials. In the current session the idea is before the legislature again, though this time it’s more clear on who gives the orders.

Currently only the governor can order a mandatory evacuation.

The legislation is HB1120.

The Bismarck Tribune has a good review of the debate. Supporters want it because they say sometimes orders need to be issued quickly, by people on the ground. Morton County Commissioner Bruce Strinden tells the Tribune that emergencies such as the anhydrous ammonia spill here in Minot require more local power.

That seems like a strange example. Immediate evacuation wasn’t the problem in that emergency. In fact, the those who died from that spill did so because they went outside into the resulting chemical fog and died from exposure.

I’m not convinced local governments need this power. Citizens well-informed of emergencies will generally act on their own to get out of the way. And, sometimes, the government makes poor choices in ordering such evacuations. During the Grand Forks flooding, Democrat state Senator Connie Triplett remained in her home and was able to save it. Had she evacuated as ordered, she would have lost her home.

This seems like a solution in search of the problem. Looking at the last several years of natural disasters in North Dakota, I fail to see how local authority to order mandatory evacuations would have helped in any of those situations. The government has adequate power to respond to emergencies as is. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Shadowwalker

    This seems very simple. If you are not intelligent enough to make up your own mind, then we will not risk others to save you. It sounds cold but that is the way it is. If you are told that your house is going to be under water and you will not have power, then it is up to you to jump ship or learn how to swim. If you have what you need to survive, then have at it but don’t expect me to come in after you if you are wrong. Freedom of choice right? The libs say that we should have freedom to do as we want with our bodies. Here is a good place to start don’t you think?

    • Roy_Bean

      Once you start, where do you stop. Should you be ordered not to sleep in a 2nd floor bedroom during tornado season?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I’d rather have a law which said that i’m responsible for paying for any rescue mission to bail me out than a law giving the government any more power to order me to evacuate.

      Of course, me personally, would almost certainly always evacuate when told to.

  • Lianne

    ‘such as the anhydrous ammonia spill here in Minot ‘
    That is one of the poorest examples to use if they are pushing for mandatory evacuation. That particular night, there were NO answers or responses for nearly two hours. Police lines were busy, no reports from radio emergency, and the BEST thing for everyone to do was stay in your home, under cool running water or at least moist ‘bandanas over your face. NO one should have evacuated.

  • Camburn

    The introduced legislation has happened because a lot of folks have forgotten how unique ND’s constitution is.
    IF a local authority declares mandatory evacuation, it has to happen. In ND, the power goes from Township, to County, to State level. No other state in the nation is like this, and I think that is where the confusion originates.

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