Using Mutual Aid Contracts in Times of Emergency

March 23, 2020

Cities have broad authority under state law to share personnel, equipment, and supplies with other cities and political subdivisions during an emergency.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency that may invoke the provisions of mutual aid agreements for cities across the state. Minnesota cities have a tradition of providing emergency assistance. As part of their response to the current emergency, cities should take note of existing mutual aid agreements and review their provisions with legal counsel.

Cities have broad authority under state law to share personnel, equipment, and supplies with other cities and political subdivisions during an emergency. The terms by which aid is shared are governed by a mutual aid agreement, a written agreement between the parties, or state law.

The League’s information memo on emergency assistance provides useful legal background and discussion of coverage and liability issues in mutual aid agreements.

—View the information memo: Providing Assistance in Emergencies

Are mutual aid agreements limited to police and fire functions?

No. Police and fire/rescue mutual aid agreements are common, but mutual aid agreements can also be used to share a variety of personnel, equipment, supplies, and services. For example, cities can share licensed wastewater operators, building inspectors, administrative and public works personnel, and public works equipment. Agreements give cities considerable flexibility to deliver services during an emergency.

What if cities share resources without a mutual aid agreement?

Minnesota Statutes, section 12.331 provides default rules for workers’ compensation, liability, equipment damage, and reimbursement for expenses incurred in the provision of aid. These provisions apply when there is no mutual aid agreement in place or when they are not addressed in a mutual aid agreement.

Does the League have a template mutual aid agreement?

Yes. The League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust (LMCIT) has a model mutual aid agreement and an information memo that discusses the model agreement. The model agreement eliminates the potential for conflicts and litigation between governmental units.

—Access the mutual aid memo and model mutual aid agreement

Cities should have their city attorney review new mutual aid agreements prior to their adoption. The LMCIT Contract Review Service can work with the city attorney free of charge to ensure coverage provisions adequately protect the city’s interests.