How Our Federal Government Handles National Disasters When the first images of lead tainted water began appearing out of Flint, Michigan, the American people demanded action. Local and state government responders proved ineffectual at addressing the issue, and for weeks the residents of Flint suffered without safe water to use. Though private aid organizations offered support, it wasn’t until the federal government lent its support that the situation began to stabilize. One of the most important jobs of the federal government is tackling problems that are beyond the abilities of state and local communities to handle on their own. Tornados, flooding, hurricanes, fires, and more devastate parts of the country on a monthly basis, and without the intervention of FEMA and other federal aid agencies, people in those areas might not recover for years. When responding to a disaster, the federal government follows a straightforward process.
Before getting involved, the federal government must evaluate the situation on the ground. The federal government cannot act in the states without the permission of the governor, so all assistance begins with a governor’s request for help. At that point, FEMA examines the extent of the damage, draws up an estimate on the cost and time of recovery, and acts on its evaluation. FEMA can decide to take one of three actions:
Presidential Major Disaster Declaration: Disasters categorized under this label are severe enough that they warrant long-term aid from the federal government. The President approves the release of funds through the President’s Disaster Relief Fund, and the money serves as a supplement to money the state and local governments plan to spend. The highest level of federal involvement is with a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration. If the President makes such a declaration, FEMA and federal agencies initiate long-term plans to help a community rebuild and recover. Unlike the Major Disaster Categorization, a Presidential declaration does not require the same level of matching funds or assistance from the state; the federal government takes over financial responsibility.
Once a disaster is declared, medical and disaster experts arrive to offer assistance on the ground by using their technical expertise and resources to identify residents harmed by the disaster. FEMA uses mobile field offices to bring help to those affected by the disaster. Through the field offices, the government makes three types of assistance available.
Business owners can also seek relief through the individual assistance program. In addition to the individual assistance program, business owners may apply for small business loans and grants to off-set the lost economic opportunities and damage to the business caused by the disaster.
In cases like Flint, where the disaster is specifically related to public health, FEMA may turn over the administration of assistance to the Department of Health and Human Services. Their experience in health screenings and identifying health concerns make HHS officials better equipped to assist and coordinate all agencies involved in the recovery.
Direct federal involvement in disaster relief typically ends when the situation becomes stable. At that point, FEMA and other federal agencies turn over the everyday operations of disaster recovery to state and local authorities. FEMA does assist communities with a long-term recovery framework that will help to rebuild the community and prevent future disasters. The Self-Help Guide is a step-by-step process to analyze recovery projects, estimate the cost of recovery, and implement the plan. The federal government’s role in disaster relief helps communities recover faster and stronger than they could on their own. The clearly defined plan of action from FEMA eliminates confusion, and makes the process of disaster recovery straightforward for all involved.
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Disaster Declaration Process https://www.fema.gov/pdf/media/factsheets/dad_disaster_declaration.pdf
HHS To Lead Federal Response In Flint http://www.fema.gov/blog/2016-01-19/ground-week-hhs-lead-federal-response-flint?utm_source=hp_promo&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=femagov_hp
Long-Term Community Recovery Planning Process https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1538-20490-8825/selfhelp.pdf