Attorney General: Mr. Frank Mancuso, Office of Emergency Management, 1991-023 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

July 8, 1991

Mr. Frank Mancuso
Director
Office of Emergency Management
360 Broad Street
Hartford, CT 06105

Dear Mr. Mancuso:

In your letter dated December 5, 1990, you expressed concern over the extent of the financial responsibility to which the State is potentially exposed pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-14. This statutory provision requires the State to compensate individuals for death, disability or injury incurred while in training for or on civil preparedness duty. Specifically, you suggest that, absent certain minimum standards, the State may be subjecting itself to unnecessary financial liability by utilizing under qualified civil preparedness workers who unwittingly expose themselves to avoidable danger in the performance of their duties. You requested our advice on the question of whether the Office of Emergency Management has the authority under statute to dictate to local unity of government specific standards for the qualification of individuals to serve as members of their civil preparedness forces. It is our opinion that the Office of Emergency Management does possess the statutory authority to dictate to local units of government the qualifications and standards to be adhered to in recruiting, training and assigning individuals, volunteer or otherwise, to positions of responsibility in their local civil preparedness organizations.

The above inquiry was prompted by an incident which occurred on August 21, 1988, in which a Connecticut municipality requested its civil preparedness director to schedule a training dive for its local scuba squad. The object of the training exercise was to inspect the bottom of a small river to determine whether a private contractor had fulfilled its obligation to the city by removing old pilings supporting a railroad trestle which had long since been demolished. Three civil preparedness scuba divers were assigned to the task. All were volunteers. Following the dive, one of the workers became ill, claiming that he had been unwittingly exposed to toxic substances present in the water and bottom sediments. Investigation suggested that the diver's exposure may have been the result of inadequate training and the inadvertent use of substandard equipment for the task to which he was assigned. The complaint generated not only a workers' compensation claim, but also a civil lawsuit naming the municipality and the State of Connecticut as defendants.

The authority of the director of the Office of Emergency Management is set forth in Chapter 517 of the General Statutes, entitled "Civil Preparedness and Emergency Services". Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-1 et seq. Chapter 517 provides for the Office of Emergency Management which is to operate "under the direction and supervision of an emergency management director appointed by the governor, which director shall be responsible for the civil preparedness program of the state." Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-2(a) (1991). Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-5 (1991) assigns to the director responsibility for the preparation of a "comprehensive plan and program for the civil preparedness of the state ...," and further directs him to "coordinate the civil preparedness planned program." Id. at 28-5(b). This statutory provision requires the director to "institute such training programs ... as may be necessary to the prompt and effective operation of the state civil preparedness plan in time of emergency." Id. at 28-5(c). Finally, and most importantly, it grants the director authority to "make such orders and regulations as may be necessary to develop and implement the civil preparedness plan and program." Id. at 28-5(e).

The statutes also define the responsibilities of the municipalities within the state civil preparedness plan. Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-7(1991) provides that "[e]ach town or city of the state shall establish a local organization for civil preparedness in accordance with the state civil preparedness plan and program ..." Id. at 28-7(a). It further provides for the appointment of a local director who "shall be responsible for the organization, administration and operation of such local organization, subject to the direction and control of the state director." Id. at 28-7(b); see also, Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-7(c) (each local or joint organization shall perform its civil preparedness functions in the territorial limits within which it is organized as the state director prescribes).

Where the local civil preparedness director acts within the scope of his authority under the statutes, volunteer civil preparedness workers affiliated with municipal organizations enjoy the benefits of the state workers' compensation statutes. "Whenever, in the judgment of a local civil preparedness director, with prior approval of the state director, it is deemed essential to authorize the temporary assignment, with their consent, of any members of civil preparedness forces who are not paid employees of the state or any political subdivision thereof, for a temporary civil preparedness mission, the provisions of 28-14 shall apply." Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-7(h) (1991). Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-14 (1991) provides, in relevant part, that "any persons who are engaged in regular employment apart and separate from their duties as members of civil preparedness forces and for whom such compensation is not so provided shall, while in training for or engaged in civil preparedness duty under the provisions of this chapter, be construed to be employees of the state for the purposes of chapter 568 [the Workers' Compensation Act] ... and shall be compensated by the state in accordance with the provisions of said chapter 568 ..." Id. at 28-14(a).

The statutes clearly vest the state director of emergency management with plenary authority over, and responsibility for, the training and qualification of civil preparedness personnel in accordance with the civil preparedness program of the state. It follows that the state director may dictate to local directors the minimum standards and qualifications to be applied by their organizations in recruiting, training and assigning such members to civil preparedness activities. In establishing minimum standards and qualifications applicable to local civil preparedness organizations statewide, the director of emergency management must comply with the provisions of Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-5(e). This section directs that orders and regulations necessary to develop and implement the state's civil preparedness plan and program be adopted in accordance with the provisions of the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. 4-168 through 4-173, inclusive. Once so adopted, however, such orders and regulations have the "full force and effect of law." Conn. Gen. Stat. 28-5(e) (1991).

Accordingly, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the Office of Emergency Management does possess the statutory authority to dictate to local units of government the qualifications and standards to be adhered to in recruiting, training and assigning individuals to positions of responsibility in their local civil preparedness organizations.

Very truly yours,

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Stephen R. Sarnoski
Assistant Attorney General

RB/SRS/td


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