So when there's 18 inches of cement-like snow in your yard, the power is out and your driveway is blocked by downed branches and power lines, do you really need to hear that the chairman of the county board of commissioners has declared a state of emergency?
But as the first flakes of what appears to be a major snowstorm are starting to fall and the police and the road commission want people to stay off the roads, have flashlights and candles at hand and be ready to go without power for a few hours — or days — a declaration may be a good thing.
If anybody actually knows what a declaration means or where to find one.
A lot of us learned hard lessons from the storm of 2012 — up to 200,000 people were without power — from having enough blankets, candles, flashlights, food and water on hand to endure a two- or three-day blackout to having a chain saw and gasoline ready.
But at the governmental level, the storm raised serious questions about the value of declaring an emergency, about teaching residents exactly what that means and what they should and must do — if anything — when an emergency is declared, about how best to get the word out, about who is best suited (and has the authority) to declare an emergency and what actions a declaration obligates a county or city to take.
In Leelanau County, shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday, March 3, a fax went out from the county dispatch Leelanau center that stated the county was in a state of emergency and ordered all motorists to stay off roads; but the county board chairman didn't send it and didn't know who did.
States of emergency are supposed to be declared by the chairman of the county board, the county's chief elected officer. The declaration is supposedly made because a county's disaster response could exhaust its resources, or to keep motorists off the roads except for emergency travel or to later apply for disaster relief.
Grand Traverse County board Chairman Larry Inman declared a state of emergency at 5 a.m. Saturday, primarily to keep drivers off the roads.
"Basically, it's to give some emphasis to people not to be out on the roads," said Grand Traverse Emergency Management Director Dan Scott.
Antrim County didn't declare an emergency because the county's costs weren't enough to seek reimbursement, said Carl Goeman, Antrim's emergency management director.
Leelanau formally declared a state of emergency Monday afternoon, strictly to apply for disaster relief from the state.
Beyond deciding whether to declare an emergency, a more basic question was how to get the word out. WTCM-FM, 103.5 FM, is the official emergency broadcast system radio station, but Scott said most people either didn't have a battery-powered radio, didn't know what station carried the message or were without power.
There are issues to ponder.
n There should be two kinds of emergency declarations, one to deal with real-time directions for the populace, such as to keep off the roads, and one to position the county to later apply for disaster relief.
n Even local governments that don't intend to apply for aid should issue some kind of declaration to give directions and advice — such as where to find emergency shelters.
n Traverse City Manager Ben Bifoss said people didn't know there was an emergency radio station or didn't know it was WTCM-FM. "We're going to undertake an effort to reinforce that," he said.
n While at least one local utility used Facebook to update outages, most new media — cellphones for calling or texting and the internet for email — were useless to those without power.
Battery or hand-cranked radios should be encouraged; other ideas should be welcomed.
Everybody learned something from the storm of 2012, including the value of a fireplace or wood-burning stove and having a source of fresh water without power.
Hopefully, local governments learned something, too.