Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of emergency


[pl. -cies]

  1. An unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action.
  2. An urgent need for assistance or relief

    Example: A state of emergency

Definition of emergency


  • (US) IPA: /ɪ'mɝ.dʒə, SAMPA: /I"m3`
  • Hyphenation: e‧mer‧gen‧cy
  • Rhymes: -ɜː(r)dʒənsi


emergency (plural emergencies)

  1. A situation such as a natural or man-made disaster requiring urgent assistance.
  2. An emergency department.


emergency (not comparable)

  1. Related to the emergency or to the provision of assistance.

    emergency vehicles

Derived terms

See also

Further reading

An emergency is a situation which poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation, although in some situations, mitigation may not be possible and agencies may only be able to offer palliative care for the aftermath.

While some emergencies are self evident (such as a natural disaster which threatens many lives), many smaller incidents require the subjective opinion of an observer (or affected party) in order to decide whether it qualifies as an emergency.

The precise definition of an emergency, the agencies involved and the procedures used, vary by jurisdiction, and this is usually set by the government, whose agencies (emergency services) are responsible for emergency planning and management.

Defining an emergency

In order to be defined as an emergency, the incident should be one of the following:

  • Immediately threatening to life, health, property or environment.
  • Have already caused loss of life, health detriments, property damage or environmental damage
  • Have a high probability of escalating to cause immediate danger to life, health, property or environment

In the United States, it is generally a requirement in most states that a notice be printed in each telephone book requiring that, if a person requests the use of a telephone line (such as a party line) because of an emergency, the other person must relinquish use of said line immediately, if their use is not also in the nature of an emergency. An emergency is also typically defined by those state statutes as "a condition where life, health or property is in jeopardy, and the prompt summoning of aid is essential."

Whilst most emergency services agree on protecting human health, life and property, the environmental impacts are not considered sufficiently important by some agencies. This also extends to areas such as animal welfare, where some emergency organisations cover this element through the 'property' definition, where animals which are owned by a person are threatened (although this does not cover wild animals). This means that some agencies will not mount an 'emergency' response where it endangers wild animals or environment, although others will respond to such incidents (such as oil spills at sea which pose a threat to marine life). The attitude of the agencies involved is likely to reflect the predominant opinion of the government of the area.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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