Kentucky State of Emergency: What You Should Know

Seems like hardly a week goes by before we hear about another state of emergency being declared in one state or another, or even at the federal level.

kentucky flag

We hear it so much, it’s easy for the term to lose its meaning, but what does a state of emergency actually entail?

Although every state handles it slightly differently, a state of emergency declaration generally grants the government special powers to deal with crisis situations.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you what a state of emergency generally means in the state of Kentucky…

What is a State of Emergency, Exactly?

A state of emergency, or rather the declaration of a state of emergency by a state governor, is an acknowledgment that something has happened, be it a natural disaster or a man-made catastrophe, that is so bad it is worth giving the government and all of its associated agencies powers and resources that wouldn’t typically be permitted.

At its most basic, this allows the governor to mobilize or request additional resources from the state or the federal government.

At the far end, it could involve the suspension of civil rights and the prohibition or moderation of the sale of various goods, though there are restrictions to this.

This is, as always, just supposed to be temporary…

Ideally, all of this will allow the government to start getting a handle on the damage and chaos, help survivors, evacuate people that are in the danger area and get food, water, medical care and other necessities going as quickly as possible to the people who now desperately need them.

How Does a State of Emergency Work in Kentucky?

A state of emergency occurs in Kentucky when the governor declares it, typically in response to or anticipation of a damaging and disruptive event.

Although moderated by law through the state statutes and other checks and balances, this generally is done so that the state can coordinate and respond as effectively as possible to threats against its citizenry.

According to section 39A.010 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, concerning the legislative intent behind giving the governor such powers, there’s an acknowledgment that such measures are necessary to protect life and property, and also protect the public peace and welfare.

An excerpt from 39A.010 is below that outlines the findings and intentions of the general assembly:

39A.010 Legislative intent — Necessity.

(…) and in order to protect life and property of the people of the Commonwealth, and to protect public peace, health, safety, and welfare, and the environment; and in order to ensure the continuity and effectiveness of government in time of emergency, disaster, or catastrophe in the Commonwealth, it is hereby declared to be necessary:

(1) To create a Division of Emergency Management as the emergency management agency of state government and to authorize the creation of local emergency management agencies in the cities, counties, and urban-county or charter county governments of the Commonwealth;

(2) To confer upon the Governor, the county judges/executive of the counties, the mayors of the cities and urban-county governments of the Commonwealth, and the chief executive of other local governments the emergency powers provided in KRS Chapters 39A to 39F;

(3) To establish provisions for mutual aid among the cities, counties, and urban-county

or charter county governments of the Commonwealth, with other states, and with the federal government with respect to the performance of disaster and emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation functions; and

(4) To authorize the establishment of a statewide comprehensive emergency management program and integrated emergency management system, the promulgation of orders or administrative regulations, and the taking of other steps necessary and appropriate to carry out the provisions of KRS Chapters 39A to 39F.

The Governor Has Access to State and Federal Funds under an SoE

Most notably, and one of the most common assets associated with the declaration of a state of emergency, is that the governor will have access to state and, if approved, federal funds that would ordinarily be out of reach.

This is typically intended to help obtain resources, manpower, and supplies that are beyond the typical budget and might be sorely needed to deal with the crisis.

For instance, you’ve probably heard it referenced occasionally that various states were seeking federal aid in response to wildfires, hurricanes and other huge disasters.

It is the same thing here, though usually at a much smaller level.

How these funds are used can vary significantly, as it might be used to bankroll contractors that can assist with cleanup and repair efforts, or directly go to affected citizens in the form of aid. It all just depends.

The Governor Will also Activate the SEOP and SEOC for the Duration

In Kentucky particularly, any state of emergency declaration will usually entail the enactment of the State Emergency Operation Plan, or SEOP, implemented by the State Emergency Operations Center, the SEOC.

The SEOC is headquartered under the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management, the State’s emergency management agency which facilitates cooperation between cities and counties with their own emergency management offices.

The State Emergency Operations Center is responsible for coordinating mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts that will protect the lives of Commonwealth citizens and the environment in the state of Kentucky.

The role and function of the Division of Emergency Management is outlined under Chapter 39A.030 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes.

Does a State of Emergency in KY Mean Martial Law?

No, although it isn’t totally out of the question either, if the situation were grave enough.

Generally, the governor will be allowed to mobilize the National Guard for whatever purposes are required that are still consistent with state and federal law under the circumstances.

The National Guard will help with search and rescue efforts, cleanup efforts, the transportation and distribution of supplies, security and sometimes construction or demolition efforts as required according to their special skill sets and equipment.

It should also be noted that the governor is authorized explicitly, by law, to seize, take or condemn property for the duration of the emergency with the notable exclusion of firearms, ammunition, firearms and ammunition components, or any combination thereof.

Additionally, the governor is further allowed to take for temporary use property, real or otherwise, with the promise of repayment or compensation for any damage or failure to return it.

The governor and associated state agencies can also institute travel stoppages in or out of affected areas within reason as allowed by law.

Anyone who has their property seized or taken this way, or condemned as a result of events, that doesn’t want to accept compensation or has been refused compensation for whatever reason has the right, by law, to present their claim to the State Board of Claims.

This is further discussed in Chapter 39A.110 and 39A.120 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes.

The main gist of the governor’s powers is outlined in the beginning of 39A.100, included below. Make sure you read it in its entirety, too:

39A.100 Emergency powers of Governor and local chief executive officers —

Report by Governor — Construction of statute — Prohibition of discriminatory

action against religious organization — Definitions — Cause of action —


(1) In the event of the occurrence or threatened or impending occurrence of any of the situations or events enumerated in KRS 39A.010, 39A.020, or 39A.030, the Governor may declare, in writing, that a state of emergency exists. The Governor shall have and may exercise the following emergency powers during the period in which the state of emergency exists:

(a) To enforce all laws, and administrative regulations relating to disaster and emergency response and to assume direct operational control of all disaster and emergency response forces and activities in the Commonwealth;

(b) To require state agencies and to request local governments, local agencies, and special districts to respond to the emergency or disaster in the manner directed;

(c) To seize, take, or condemn property, for the duration of the emergency, and only for public use as defined in KRS 416.675, excluding firearms and ammunition, components of firearms and ammunition, or a combination thereof, for the protection of the public or at the request of the President, the Armed Forces, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the United

States, including:

1. All means of transportation and communication;

2. All stocks of fuel of whatever nature;

3. Food, clothing, equipment, materials, medicines, and all supplies; and

4. Facilities, including buildings and plants, but excluding houses of worship, except to the extent that such houses have become unsafe to a degree that would justify condemnation in the absence of a state of emergency.

Compensation for property seized, taken, or condemned under this paragraph shall be determined using the process in KRS 416.540 to 416.670 to determine value;


What are Some Recent State of Emergency Declarations in KY?

A state of emergency declaration in Kentucky is quite common, and usually done in response to significant natural disasters even if their effects are mostly localized.

In recent years, Governor Andy Beshear has declared a state of emergency in response to Major tornado outbreaks, flooding, severe winter weather, and more.

A few incidents are below…

JUST IN: Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear Signs State Of Emergency Over Dangerous Weather Hitting State

March 3, 2023

Governor Andy Beshear declares a state of emergency ahead of a severe storm system that was expected to produce damaging straight-line winds, isolated tornadoes, areal flooding, and extensive flash flooding across much of the state.

Kentucky Governor Declares State Of Emergency, Warns Of 'Dangerous' Cold

December 21, 2022

The same governor declares a state of emergency in advance of a winter storm termed a “cold blast” that would produce widespread below-zero temperatures, flash freezing, and very dangerous road conditions along with gusty winds.

Kentucky flooding: State of emergency declared as governor expects deaths in the “double digits”

July 28, 2022

Gov. Beshear issues executive order declaring state of emergency due to severe flooding throughout Eastern Kentucky the previous day.

National Guard mobilized, price gouging prevention laws activated, and the federal government was asked for a federal disaster declaration and relief aid.

State of emergency declared by Gov. Beshear due to severe weather across Kentucky

January 1, 2022

The Governor declares a state of emergency as a result of severe storms and associated flooding on New Year’s Day.

Heavy rainfall, tornadoes, hail and high winds impacted the entirety of the state.

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