Difference between Alarm State, Exception and Site

State of alarm, exception and siege are terms used to link special cases in a country, so it is necessary to implement different types of measures to maintain public order.

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

Spain is an example where 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. It is a measure that appears in article 116 of the Spanish constitution and detailed in the Organic Law 4/1981 of the states of alarm, exception and site.

State of alarm

It is an event that generates a disturbance of public order and it is necessary to take security measures to protect people in general.

This term is used only in certain countries, as is the case of Spain, which contemplates a constitutional article (116) and an Organic Law in force since 1981 where the situations in which a state of alarm must be decreed are specified:

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

In article 11 of the Organic Law 4/1981 of states of alarm, exception and siege, it dictates the following actions to contemplate 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.

In the 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. In case an extension is needed, it needs to be approved by the Congress of Deputies.

Alarm status example

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

Exception status

It is a line that is activated in exceptional cases 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 are applied as follows:

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

Exception status example

In 1989, in Venezuela, he presented a series of alterations of public order in rejection of economic measures dictated by President Carlos Andrés Pérez. This event, known as El Caracazo, involved the activation of a state of emergency for the first time in the democratic history of the country with the aim of containing the demonstrations and restoring order.

Site status

It is a technique to protect the sovereignty of a country against foreign attacks or internal insurrections. It is the high severity scenario, since it is assumed as a pre-war or war situation, in which the armed forces have decision-making authority.

Site status example

In October 1985, President Raúl Alfonsín declared a state of siege in Argentina for 60 days. During this time, the government reserved the right to detain civilians and take them within the country or give them the option of withdrawing from 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 d’état.

Alarm Status, Exception and Site

State of alarm Exception status Site status
Definition Situation of disturbance or possible disturbance 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 crises.

· 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.).

Measures that the authorities can take · Restriction of circulation within the national territory. 

· Temporary occupation of companies.

· Rationing of basic products.

· Restriction or prohibition of circulation within the national territory. 

· Inspection of companies and homes.

· Intervention of means of communication and transport.

· Cession of powers to the Armed Forces.

· Prohibition of circulation within the national territory.

· Suspension of constitutional guarantees.

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