Gubernatorial Emergency Management Powers: Testing the Limits in Pennsylvania


  • Patricia Sweeney



We live in an age marked by natural disasters, pandemics, and terrorism. Individually and in combination, these destructive forces provoke socio-political and economic havoc across the country. Pennsylvanians are intimately familiar with the devastating effects of flooding, severe tornadoes, and crippling snowstorms. Moreover, the very landscape of Pennsylvania bears the scars of the wreckage of a failed terrorist airplane hijacking. Such disasters, be they attributable to nature or humankind, present unique challenges to state and local governments. During such crisis, officials-from small-town mayors to the Governor-are called upon to make critical, time-sensitive decisions. Some of these decisions will be wise and prove effective, while others may not. Against this backdrop of seemingly impending crisis, it is critical that the legal powers of elected officials be clearly understood before they are needed.

This article explores one such disaster-related legal issue by answering the question: When the Governor of Pennsylvania declares a state of emergency, what are his emergency management powers, and what is the breadth of the scope of these powers? Answering this question requires an understanding of state governors' powers in general, which is presented in Part II of the article. Part III discusses the constitutional and statutory authority for the Pennsylvania Governor's emergency management powers. The apparent breadth of these powers is explored in Part IV, wherein the Governor's powers are analyzed in the context of legislative history. Part V analyzes effective "checks" on the Governor's powers and details a specific instance of a legal challenge to the Governor's declaration of a state of emergency. Part VI concludes with the answer to the central inquiry.