Emergency preparedness emphasizes the need to store food, water, and other vital items that may not be readily accessible during a disaster. But does the law allow this?
Is stockpiling food illegal?
Stockpiling food when there is no current or forecasted emergency is not illegal. When there is plenty of food to go around, you are free to stockpile it. During a time of crisis, scarcity, or government emergency declaration, food may be in short supply. Hoarding during this time can be deemed illegal.
Under a state of emergency, the government might exercise its right to confiscate supplies from civilians.
What the law says about search and seizure
The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the unreasonable search and seizure of a person, their home, and their belongings without a search warrant. For a search warrant to be issued, a “probable cause” must be established and approved by the judiciary court before a person and/ or their home and belongings are searched.
Under normal circumstances where the government is functioning within its constitutional laws, no government official is allowed to enter your home without a warrant, therefore your emergency food storage and other goods are deemed legal.
The problem arises if and when the government operates under martial law. Several presidents have signed executive orders which will override any constitutional rights, freedoms, and provisions we have as citizens. Under marital law, anything we own will no longer be ours, including the emergency food, water, and weapons you may have stockpiled for such an event.
It’s kind of ironic that the same government that has set up an emergency organization to assist the country during disasters also has the power to take away everything we own under martial law. FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) was established to help us prepare for natural and manmade disasters. This is the federal organization that should provide assistance for relief and recovery to communities affected by emergencies. Some sources say that they are also largely involved in building facilities to ensure the continuity of the government in case of a major disaster. On the other hand, martial law removes any rights we have as citizens and instills a military dictatorship at the hands of the president or state governor.
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What is martial law?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, martial law is the law administered by military forces that is invoked by a government in an emergency when the civilian law enforcement agencies are unable to maintain public order and safety.
The U.S. President and Congress have the power to declare a nation-wide martial law. The governor of a state can also issue a martial law decree within the boundaries of their state or a region within their state. The federal government can unquestionably suspend all Constitutional rights under martial law when the public’s safety is at risk due to a terrorist attack, civil unrest, or natural disaster.
Is martial law possible in the United States?
Yes, absolutely. Throughout history the United States has experienced several periods of martial law both nation-wide and state-wide. Even though things might seem to be in order at the moment, the President has the power to freeze everything by declaring a state of emergency without an emergency actually occurring.
Executive orders about hoarding food
Many presidents have signed executive orders regarding the laws that should override our constitutional rights if martial law is declared in the US. In recent years, there have been executive orders signed that have gone unnoticed by the majority of the people due to other political distractions. Our lack of awareness doesn’t make them any less effective or relevant. This is a brief outline of the current statues facing our country if martial law is declared.
In February 1962, John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10998, titled “Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to the Secretary of Agriculture.” In this order, the Federal government is given the authority to take over all agricultural production and distribution. It specifies that “the Secretary shall also develop plans and procedures for the proper utilization of agriculture items stockpiled for survival purposes.”
In November 1988, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12656, titled “Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities.” This order gives responsibilities to the Federal departments and National Security agencies, such as “preparing plans and procedures to share between and among the responsible agencies resources such as…food…supplies…water, and workforce needed to carry out assigned responsibilities and other essential functions,” as well as, “develop plans to set priorities and allocate resources among civilian and military claimants.”
The following two orders are based on the principles laid out in EO 10998.
In June 1994, Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 12919, also known as the “National Defense Industrial Resources Preparedness” which allows the Federal government to seize all food and water resources from the public and private sector. The order describes the confiscation of food resources as “all commodities and products that are capable of being ingested by either human beings or animals…at all stages of processing.” In this order, the confiscation of water resources relates to “all usable water, from all sources, within the jurisdiction of the United States, which can be managed, controlled, and allocated to meet emergency requirements.”
In March 2012, Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13603, better known as the “National Defense Resources Preparedness” which enables the Federal government to confiscate and re-distribute all potable water, food, and whatever resources are necessary to protect the United States during a state of emergency.
Reading through these executive orders in their entirety can be a bit of a headache, but think of it this way: if the Commander in Chief of the Military of the United States believes martial law is a possibility in our country, shouldn’t we anticipate and prepare for it too?
Martial law at a state level
Every state has its own statues addressing the procedures that will take place if martial law is declared in their state. The Governor of each state is given the authority to make such a decision. In some cases this power has been misused against the goodwill of the people and the Judiciary court has been able to overturn the martial laws of the state, but it’s not always this simple.
What problems can these orders cause in the future?
Neither the United States nor FEMA are promoting a public emergency preparedness incentive with the urgency that it deserves. The lack of preparedness efforts in this country along with the advancement of technology can lead to a couple major problems in the future.
PROBLEM # 1:
Some people are psychologically trained to live in the moment. We have everything we want at our fingertips without fear of the future. This on-demand world we’re accustomed to has given us the access to enjoy whatever we desire within minutes, literally. Think of fast food restaurants, quick internet connection, TV shows and movies on Netflix, access to taxis at the click of a button [such as Uber and Lyft]…among many other things. While I’m okay with this rise in technology [to a degree], people have become more dependent on a society that fills our immediate needs quickly. The thought of having to wait more than 10 seconds for a website to load or our coffee to be prepared in under five minutes is almost unthinkable. The demands of society are shaping our culture in this way.
As far as government assistance goes [I’ll barely touch on this topic], the increasing amount of monetary aid that is being poured into the citizens on welfare has left thousands of people fully dependent on government services. When a serious emergency strikes, the people will not only demand assistance, but the government will not have the ability to match nor sustain the immediate needs of the public, including the basics of food and water. This is a recipe for a much greater disaster. The growing fear and desperation of a people group can open a door to violence and looting, just like many people experienced shortly after Hurricane Katrina.
PROBLEM # 2:
Year after year my social media feed is bombarded with news of worldwide disasters. One pattern I have continually observed is the way people react under the threat of an emergency. At the notice of an evacuation order, hundreds of people rush to the grocery store and gas station to pick up necessary provisions for their families. Supermarkets and supply stores are only equipped with a certain amount of stock, so as our human survival instinct kicks in, we tend to hoard whatever we can get our hands on- anything to get us through the unfortunate event. This not only creates ridiculous wait lines and inflation on product prices, but also sanctions on the limit of your purchases to ensure the majority of the people are given an equal opportunity to buy basic supplies.
In the case of a long-term emergency, like the Great Depression where supplies were lacking nation-wide, what you own now may become the governments’ overnight. There are laws in place that allow the government to take ownership of our personal food and water storage to provide a means for the rest of the population to survive. Their agenda will be to gather and centralize all the survival resources and food / water we have stockpiled, and then “fairly distribute” them to the people as they please. Keep in mind that under martial law the court system will not be functioning, so consider that it’s you against the military at that point, and chances are that the military will have their way.
During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, people were arrested for hoarding gasoline. This is an example of a man purchasing gasoline for himself and his neighbors. What could have been a kind gesture or favor turned into a jail sentence during a time when there were sanctions due to a gasoline shortage.
These problems present us with an interesting scenario for our future. The people that are naiive and not actively prepping may suffer due to a lack of food and other survival supplies. The preppers on the other hand will have to keep a tight watch on their goods and anticipate the possibility of the government taking their belongings. If SHTF and the local police department can’t protect the citizens, martial law is very likely to be put into effect as a safety measure until the situation settles down enough and the police can manage to take over again…but who knows how long that might take.
Whichever side we’re on at the time of a crisis [either prepared with a stockpile of food or not], we are taking a risk. Considering the global food crisis we’re facing, I would definitely start stockpiling goods regardless of what’s to come.
What can you do about it?
Unfortunately there is not much we can do for ourselves if the President declares martial law. However, in preparing for your homes and families, there’s a few things you can do to keep your emergency supplies under the radar.
1. Keep quiet. Don’t tell your neighbors what you have stockpiled, what you plan to store, or where you’re keeping it. You never know what can happen in desperate situations. To prevent your neighbors from speaking out against you, it’s better to keep them uninformed on your level of preparedness.
2. Don't put all your eggs in the same basket. Keep your goods at different locations. Bury some, keep some in storage, and if possible store some in a different property. When the Military comes to check on your home, you can comply and give them the portion that is stored there, but then you’ll have secured more supplies at other locations.
3. Use paper money. Purchase your goods in cash, if possible. Anything can be tracked on your credit card nowadays, and while we are a society accustomed to using plastic rather than paper money, it would be wise to let those purchases be made in a way that can’t be easily traced.
How much food are you legally allowed to store?
On a national level, we can use the Defense Production Act of 1950 as a reference. Some parts of this Act have been repealed and amended, but the up-to-date version can be seen here.
This document specifies the legal limits to which we can hoard any scarce materials. In a state of emergency, there will be a shortage of water, food, and other supplies. Section 2072 of this Act gives the President the authority to define what the legal limit of hoarding supplies is. “Supplies” as a term isn’t defined so it could be interpreted as any object that is in low-supply and high-demand during an emergency. Once the President makes this call, anyone who exceeds the “legal limit” at that time is subject to their goods being confiscated by the Military. No questions asked.
Again, this would occur under a state of emergency but under normal circumstances, what we own remains ours. Each state may have their own law on the limits of supplies that you’re allowed to store. In this information packet, FEMA recommends you store “at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. If you are unable to store this quantity, store as much as you can.” As far as food goes, they also recommend “maintaining a supply that will last [two weeks].”
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Even though we live in a relatively stable country [compared to most], there may come a time when a national or worldwide crisis leads the President to declare martial law in order to bring stability back to the country.
If we are serious preppers, we shouldn’t be surprised if the military comes knocking at our door demanding us to give up our supplies so that they can be distributed around for the greater good. This is a reality we have to prepare for and perhaps eventually face.
It is always better to be safe than sorry when SHTF, even if it means using alternative methods to protect your supplies. Whatever happens from that point on will have to be left in God’s hands. In any case, becoming a wise prepper will help you see your family through any emergency.
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