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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies

Francis X. McCarthy
Analyst in Emergency Management Policy

Jared T. Brown
Analyst in Emergency Management and Homeland Security Policy

The principles of disaster management assume a leadership role by the local, tribal, and state governments with the federal government providing coordinated supplemental resources and assistance, if requested and approved. The immediate response to a disaster is guided by the National Response Framework (NRF), which details roles and responsibilities at various levels of government, along with cooperation from the private and nonprofit sectors, for differing incidents and support functions. A declaration of a major disaster or emergency under the authority of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, P.L. 93-288, must, in almost all cases, be requested by the governor of a state or the chief executive of an affected Indian tribal government, who at that point has declared that the situation is beyond the capacity of the state or tribe to respond. The governor/chief also determines which parts of the state/tribal territory they will request assistance for and suggests the types of assistance programs that may be needed. The President considers the request, in consultation with officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and makes the initial decisions on the areas to be included as well as the programs that are implemented.

The majority of federal aid is made available from FEMA under the authority of the Stafford Act. In addition to that assistance, other disaster aid is made available through programs of the Small Business Administration (which provides disaster loans to both businesses and homeowners), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the Department of Transportation (DOT), and, in some instances, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (in the form of Community Development Block Grant funds being made available for unmet disaster needs).

While the disaster response and recovery process is fundamentally a relationship between the federal government and the requesting state or tribal government, there are roles for congressional offices to play in providing information to the federal response and recovery teams in their respective states and districts. Congressional offices also serve as a valuable source of accurate and timely information to their constituents.

Date of Report: May 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R41981
Price: $29.95

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