Five Facts About FEMA & Disaster Response
Last week Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 hurricane, became the strongest storm to ever make landfall on the Florida panhandle. This catastrophic event brought 155-mph winds and a massive storm surge, a combination that decimated waterfront communities.
Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is on the ground working to help Gulf Coast residents whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Michael. While the recovery from the storm has just begun, FEMA will all but certainly have a presence in affected Florida communities for the foreseeable future.
Below are five facts about FEMA and its role responding to national disasters:
1. FEMA was created by executive order in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter to centralize how the federal government responds to emergencies. This action merged over 100 programs that were previously responsible for responding to disasters, but often had trouble coordinating their efforts. This included the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, and the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration.
2. Since 2003, FEMA has been part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which was created by President George W. Bush to respond to natural and man-made emergencies. Today, FEMA is headquartered in Washington, D.C., has an annual budget of more than $16 billion, and has almost 16,000 employees. There are also 10 regional offices across the country, in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Denton (Texas), Kansas City (Missouri), Denver, Oakland, and Bothell (Washington).
3. According to the Stafford Act, which was passed in 1988, the governor of the state with the emergency must make a request for support through its regional FEMA office. Once local FEMA officials assess the degree of need, and confirm that local and state officials do not have adequate resources to respond to the emergency, the president will make an assessment on whether to deploy federal help. In certain cases, a governor may request support from the president even before an initial assessment is made by FEMA.
4. Every year, Congress allocates money for FEMA to use in the event of major disasters. This funding, known as Major Declarations, can be spent on individual assistance, public assistance, and hazard mitigation. Some of the ways FEMA uses these funds include providing housing for those who have become homeless, arranging crisis counseling, removing debris, replacing infrastructure, and shoring up property to prevent damage in future emergencies.
5. Once FEMA is involved in a disaster response, it is responsible for coordinating response and recovery efforts at every level of government. While state and local authorities will still lead the relief effort, FEMA is responsible for requesting support from national agencies and organizations. This could include the Army Corps of Engineers for emergency infrastructure repairs, or the American Red Cross for meals and water purification filters. And there is no prescribed timeline for how long FEMA stays in a disaster area. The agency still has a presence in New Orleans after responding to Hurricane Katrina over 13 years ago.
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