Saturday, September 17, 2011

FYI: Emergency Plans from Jurisdictions. Freedom of Information Act

Have a homeland security or emergency management question for your community that requires public documents or records that are not readily available?
Need to review the emergency or contingency plans for your community? 
Need to know how much funding has been provided to other communities within your jurisdication for emergency management planning, training, exercises, and long-term recovery?
Need to know what that funding is being spent on?
Key research may lay in obtaining and reviewing public documents that may be open to the public, or requested based on the Freedom of Information Act for federal, state, city, and local jurisdictions.


Enacted in 1966, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that establishes the public's right to obtain information from federal government agencies. The FOIA is codified at 5 U.S.C. Section 552.

"Any person" can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, associations, and universities. In 1974, after the Watergate scandal, the Act was amended to force greater agency compliance. It was also amended in 1996 to allow for greater access to electronic information.
Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.

Also variously referred to as open records or (especially in the United States) sunshine laws, governments are also typically bound by a duty to publish and promote openness. In many countries there are constitutional guarantees for the right of access to information, but usually these are unused if specific support legislation does not exist.


The Act applies only to federal agencies. However, all of the states, as well as the District of Columbia and some territories, have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, though some are significantly broader than others.

Some state and local government agencies attempt to get around state open records laws by claiming copyright for their works and then demanding high fees to license the public information. 

The ruling in Santa Clara v. CFAC will likely curtail the abuse of copyright to avoid public disclosure in California, but agencies in other states like Texas and New York continue to hide behind copyright.  Some states expand government transparency through open meeting laws, which require government meetings to be announced in advance and held publicly.


The FOIA applies to Executive Branch departments, agencies, and offices; federal regulatory agencies; and federal corporations. Congress, the federal courts, and parts of the Executive Office of the President that function solely to advise and assist the President, are NOT subject to the FOIA.

Records obtainable under the FOIA include all "agency records" - such as print documents, photographs, videos, maps, e-mail and electronic records - that were created or obtained by a Federal agency and are, at the time the request is filed, in that agency's possession and control.

Agencies are required by FOIA to maintain information about how to make a FOIA request, including a handbook, reference guide, indexes, and descriptions of information locator systems. The best place to get this information is on the agencies' websites.

Doing research to determine the right office to send the FOIA request to within the right component of the right agency will make your FOIA efforts more productive.


For information on obtaining federal and state FOI contact,
     National Freedom of Information Center:

For information on obtaining local city FOI information your local news agency, or publication would have a mulititude of information on procedures for obtaining this information

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