Alarm, exception and site status

State of alarm, exception and site are terms used to refer to extraordinary situations in a country , so it is necessary to implement different types of measures to maintain public order.

The difference between a state of alarm, an exception and a siege is determined by the seriousness of the political, social or health events that cause the national commotion.

In Spain, for example, a state of alarm was decreed during the month of March 2020 due to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic . In this case, it is a measure contemplated in article 116 of the Spanish constitution and detailed in Organic Law 4/1981 on states of alarm, exception and siege.

In this sense, it is important to clarify that each State determines the definition, application and scope of these measures.

State of alarmException statusSite status
DefinitionSituation of alteration or possible alteration of public order.Situation in which national sovereignty or individual guarantees are at risk.Pre-war or war situation.
Situations in which it can be decreed
  • Epidemics
  • Pandemics
  • Health crisis.
  • Shortage of essential products or services.
  • Alteration in the functioning of government institutions.
  • Threat to the freedoms and rights of citizens.
  • Foreign military interference.
  • Internal insurrections (rebellions, coups, etc.).
Actions that authorities can take
  • Restriction of circulation within the national territory.
  • Temporary occupation of companies.
  • Rationing of basic products.
  • Restriction or prohibition of movement within the national territory.
  • Inspection of companies and homes.
  • Intervention of means of communication and transport.
  • Assignment of powers to the Armed Forces.
  • Prohibition of circulation within the national territory.
  • Suspension of constitutional guarantees.

What is a state of alarm?

State of alarm refers to a situation or event that causes or could cause a disturbance of public order , so it is necessary to take security measures to protect the population.

It is worth noting that this term is used only in some countries, such as the case of Spain, which includes a constitutional article (116) and an Organic Law in force since 1981 that specifies the situations in which a state of alarm must be decreed, to to know:

  • Epidemics, contamination situations or health crises.
  • Shortage of essential products.
  • Natural disasters (earthquakes, floods) or major accidents.

For its part, article 11 of Organic Law 4/1981 on states of alarm, exception and siege, contemplates the following actions to maintain order and security in these situations:

  • Restriction of the movement of people or cars.
  • Temporary occupation of companies.
  • Ensure the production of essential products and services and ration their consumption.

According to this same law, in its chapter 6, only the Council of Ministers can decree the state of alarm and this must have a maximum duration of 15 days. If an extension is required, it must be approved by the Congress of Deputies.

It is important to note that not all countries contemplate a state of alarm, although they do use other names for extraordinary situations. In Mexico, the term “state of health emergency” is used for situations that have to do with public health and it is the General Health Council that has the power to decree the activation of the corresponding measures.

Example of alarm status

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic generated a serious health crisis in the Spanish public health system. Given this, in Spain a state of alarm was decreed to guarantee compliance with measures such as social distancing or the generation or obtaining of essential products and medical supplies.

See also:

  • Difference between epidemic, pandemic and endemic.
  • Difference between isolation and quarantine.

What is a state of exception?

A state of exception is a mechanism that is activated in exceptional situations in which the sovereignty of a country, the normal functioning of a government or individual freedoms are put at risk , depending on what is contemplated by the legislation of each country.

In Spain, states of exception apply if:

  • The functioning of democratic institutions is altered in some way.
  • When the exercise of citizens’ rights and freedoms is at risk
  • When there is a disturbance of public order of such magnitude that it cannot be controlled.

These situations, contemplated in Organic Law 4/1981 and in the Spanish constitution, will be controlled according to the mechanisms detailed in said law, namely:

  • Arrest of suspects of disturbance of public order.
  • Intervention of communication and transport services.
  • Prohibition of public meetings or demonstrations.
  • Intervention of companies and domiciliary searches.
  • Restriction of the movement of pedestrians and vehicles.

In Venezuela, for its part, the state of exception is applied in those cases in which natural events or human actions endanger national sovereignty, institutions or the security of citizens. At that time, actions such as the suspension of constitutional guarantees are contemplated.

Example of a state of exception

In 1989, a series of disturbances of public order took place in Venezuela in rejection of a series of economic measures implemented by the then president, Carlos Andrés Pérez. This event, known as El Caracazo, led to the activation of a state of exception for the first time in the country’s democratic history in order to contain the demonstrations and restore public order.

Since then, more than 20 states of exception have been declared, most of them declared in the last 20 years.

See also Difference between human rights and individual guarantees.

What is a state of siege?

It is a mechanism to protect the sovereignty of a country against foreign aggression or internal insurrection . It is considered the most serious scenario, since it is assumed to be a pre-war or war situation, in which the armed forces have decision-making powers.

It should be noted that during a state of siege, constitutional guarantees are suspended according to what the laws of each country provide for these cases. In Spain, Organic Law 4/1981 derived from article 116, states that a state of siege does not have a defined duration, and the same guarantees are suspended as in states of alarm and emergency.

Example of state of siege

In October 1985, President Raúl Alfonsín decreed a state of siege in Argentina for 60 days. During that period, the government reserved the right to detain civilians, transfer them within the country, or give them the option of leaving Argentine territory.

This measure was taken after a series of demonstrations by workers in the labor sector and the government’s denunciations of an alleged coup.

See also State Types .

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