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Legal Framework

How do federal laws affect state law?

The U.S. system of government is based on federalism which means that some powers are reserved for the federal government, some are reserved for state governments, and some fall to local governments. If a federal and a state law can be read together, they both apply. If they are in conflict, however, the doctrine of preemption goes into effect, which means that the higher level of government (i.e., the federal government) can limit or eliminate the law of a lower level of government (i.e., the state government). Also, federal laws can create a minimum that the states must follow. Generally, a state can enact a law that is stricter than a federal law but not less restrictive.

I did not see a law from a state or territory regarding one of ELI’s legal topics. What does that mean?

Generally, it means that the state/territory does not have a law in that specific area. States and territories are not required to provide laws in all areas. For example, states and territories are not required to provide workers’ compensation to volunteers, so some jurisdictions will not have a law pertaining to this topic.

Why does it matter if a state, territory, or federal government declares an emergency or disaster?

An emergency or emergency declaration is a legal document and can trigger laws that offer unique privileges or protections to disaster responders. For example, laws concerning mutual aid agreements only go into effect when an emergency is declared. These declarations pertain to a specific geographic area for a specific period of time. When the declaration expires, the change of law usually expires too (unless a law extends the change beyond the expiration of the declaration).

What is the difference between an emergency, disaster, catastrophe, emergency disaster, and public health disaster?

Each state and territory and the federal government can decide what type or types of declarations to issue. They vary as to who has the authority to issue the declaration, how long the declaration remains in effect, and what laws change after the declaration is made. Some states and territories have only one type of declaration and others have several different types. The different declarations have different legal consequences for different professions, departments, and boards.

What is the difference between a statute and a regulation?

Statutes are laws enacted by the legislative branch of government. In contrast, regulations are promulgated by executive branch agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The laws seem to be the same regardless of my role selection. Is this right?

Yes, many states and territories group multiple roles and situations into one law and, therefore, one law will be relevant to multiple roles.

Why are there two laws in one summary?

Some laws reference another law. For example, one law may refer to protections for “emergency response personnel” but the law doesn’t specify which roles are included in the definition. A listing of the definition of the roles is actually found in a different law. In that case, we would include the texts of both laws.

What if there are no laws that specifically apply to my role?

Roles included in ELI are based on suggestions from our expert work group. Not all roles have laws specific to them but there are many laws that pertain to all roles. For example, if there is a law that states it covers all volunteers the role would apply to epidemiologists even if epidemiologist isn’t specifically mentioned in the law.

I am using the keyword search feature to find specific laws but nothing is coming up. I know that there are laws pertaining to the word  I was searching for but I can't find anything.

The keyword search feature looks for specific words in the summaries of the laws. If your search didn't come up with any laws, try broadening your search. For example, if you searched “American Red Cross” and no laws came up, it is possible that the text in ELI includes the words “Red Cross” and not the word “American”. Try removing the word “American” and search again.

Why do I only see one role listed even though the law pertains to multiple individuals?

The only role that shows up is the role you selected irrespective of the roles the law pertains to.

What roles are included in “other”?

If a role is not included in ELI, laws pertaining to that role will appear in “other”. For example, if a law pertains to a physical therapist it would appear in ELI when the role “other” is selected.

What happens when I put a word in the keyword search?

It looks for a word in the summary, not the full legal text.


Emergency/disaster declaration

Declarations are legal contracts that can trigger laws and provisions that offer unique privileges or protections to individuals responding to the disaster. For example, in most states only after an emergency has been declared can a governor waive licensing requirements for out-of-state licensed professionals.

Good faith

Good faith means acting with honest intentions.

Good Samaritan

Good Samaritan laws offer legal protections to those providing emergency assistance


States/territories can enter into legal agreements, known as compacts, with other states, the federal government, territories, and countries. Compacts relevant to disaster management often establish license reciprocity and mutual aid agreements (see definition below) between parties.


Liability laws define when and how an individual may be held criminally, civilly, or professionally responsible if they injure someone or damage property. A Good Samaritan Law is a type of liability law that, in general, protects a disaster responder from legal responsibility when they provide services without compensation at the scene of an emergency or disaster. Although a statute or regulation can protect an individual from being held legally responsible, it does not prevent an individual from filing a lawsuit.


Licensure refers to laws that determine whether an individual who is licensed in one state/territory can provide services in another state/territory without additional credentialing. During emergencies, many states/territories waive licensure requirements and allow individuals from other states/territories to provide needed services.

Mutual Aid

Mutual aid agreements are compacts between states/territories or localities within states/territories where parties agree to provide each other aid in the event of an emergency. For a mutual aid agreement to go into effect, there must be a declared disaster/emergency in the jurisdiction requesting aid. Often these agreements provide disaster response workers with broader “powers, immunities, rights, duties, and privileges,” in other words, liability, licensure, scope of practice, and benefits.

Protections from Threats

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many disaster responders faced threats and harassment while they provided services to protect public health and safety. In response, some states/territories passed laws protecting disaster responders from such conduct. This topic includes laws that protect workers and volunteers generally, while others specifically protect public health workers.

Scope of Practice

Scope of practice laws determine what services an individual can provide with their license, permit, certification, or skills. Every state/territory defines scope of practice differently, and when an emergency is declared, states/territories can decide whether the scope of practice will change for disaster responders. In many cases, an individual who is licensed, permitted, or certified who provides assistance outside of their home state/territory may have their scope of practice changed to match what a similarly licensed, permitted, or certified individual can do in the jurisdiction where they are providing their services.

Workers’ Benefits

Workers’ compensation is given to employees or, in some states/territories, volunteers when they are injured or killed during employment or disaster response activities. When employees and volunteers provide services outside of their home state/territory, laws determine whether they are entitled to the workers’ compensation benefits of their own state/territory or the state/territory where they are providing disaster response services. There is tremendous variance and lack of uniformity among the states/territories concerning employment status requirements, geographic constraints, time limitations, and economic impacts.


The role of “physician” includes surgeons, osteopathic physicians, allopathic physicians, and medical examiners.


The role of “nurse” includes practical nurses and registered nurses.

Advanced practice registered nurse

The role of “advanced practice registered nurse” includes nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, nurse anesthetists, and clinical nurse specialists.

First responder

The role of “first responder” includes EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement officers.


If a role is not included on our list, it may be in the “other” category.

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