Examining the definition of ’emergency’
The Oklahoma legislature has declared an emergency, and created legislation to deal with it. The emergency is so dire that it is described in the legislation as: It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health, and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist.
There are emergencies, and there are emergencies
So what is this dire emergency?
— Is it another wave of tornadoes sweeping the state and causing injuries, deaths, and hundreds of millions in damage?
Nope, not that.
— Is it the gun violence that is the eighth highest in the nation?
Nope, not that either.
— Is it the 900 earthquakes that have swarmed the state since fracking began?
— How about the fact that the first case of the Zika virus in the state has been confirmed?
No, apparently this public health and safety emergency is caused by the possibility that Caitlyn Jenner might visit the state and want to use the ladies' room.
So, let’s talk about the definition of ‘Emergency’
According to Merriam-Webster, an emergency is: ‘an unexpected and usually dangerous situation that calls for immediate action.’
And when we in Emergency and Disaster Management think about ’emergency,’ it usually involves responding with police cars, rolling out fire trucks, activating operation centers, and applying for aid to help with operations and budget issues.
It is worth noting that the term ’emergency’ has been misused by governments before. In one recent example, the State of Michigan enacted an Emergency Manager law that should have actually been called an Emergency Financial Controller law. The controversy surrounding the law, the implementation of it, and its suspect impact on how the Flint water crisis played out has served to give the field of emergency and disaster management a negative public perception that it didn’t earn.
But this misuse of the word ’emergency’ comes more from our faerie tales: recall Chicken Little running around claiming: ‘The sky is falling!’ or Peter crying: ‘Wolf!’ until no one believed him any more. Neither worked out well for those who over-reacted–and it’s quite likely that this over-reaction won’t work out well for Oklahoma either.
I mean, can you envision that a transgender schoolgirl wanting to use the ladies’ room would be cause for dispatching the police cars and rolling out the fire trucks? Evidently, the Oklahoma legislature can.
So, this is the danger in what’s going on here: If the Oklahoma legislature cannot tell the difference in importance between a transgender person using the bathroom of choice on the one hand, and tornadoes, gun violence, earthquakes, and Zika on the other, then are these the people we want protecting our health and safety and guiding us into our challenging future?
It’s up to you, of course. My role is just to lay out the evidence and the options. But in this case, I think the options are clear.
What do you think?