When a disaster event such as a flood, earthquake or hurricane occurs, the first responders to this event are always local police, fire and emergency medical personnel. Their job is to rescue and attend to those injured, suppress fires, secure and police the disaster area and to begin the process of restoring order. They are supported in this effort by local emergency management personnel and community government officials.
If the size of the disaster event is so large that the capabilities of local responders are overwhelmed and the costs of the damage inflicted exceeds the capacity of the local government, the Mayor or County Executive will turn to the Governor and State Government for assistance in responding to the event and in helping the community to recover. The Governor will turn to the State’s emergency management agency and possibly the State National Guard and other State resources to provide this assistance to the stricken community.
Should the Governor decide, based on information generated by community and State officials, that the size of the disaster event exceeds the State’s capacity to respond , the Governor will make a formal request to the President for a Presidential major disaster declaration. This request is prepared by State officials in cooperation with regional staff from FEMA (with DHS). The Governor’s request is analyzed first by the FEMA Regional Office and then forwarded to FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC. FEMA headquarters staff review and evaluate the Governor’s request and forward their analysis and recommendation to the President. The President considers FEMA’s recommendation and then makes a decision to grant the declaration or to turn it down.
If the President grants a major disaster declaration, FEMA activates the National Response Plan (NRP) and proceeds to direct several Federal Departments and Agencies, including the American Red Cross, in support of State and local efforts to respond to and recover from the disaster event. The Presidential declaration also makes available several disaster assistance programs in FEMA and other Federal agencies designed to assist individuals and communities to begin the process of rebuilding their homes, their community infrastructure and their lives.
When a major disaster strikes in the Untied States, the above chronology describes how the most sophisticated and advanced emergency management system in the world responds and begins the recovery process. This system is built on coordination and cooperation among a significant number of Federal, State and local government agencies, volunteer organizations and, more recently, the business community.
In the 1990’s the emergency management system in the United States was tested repeatedly by major disaster events such as the 1993 Midwest floods, the 1994 Northridge earthquake and a series of devastating hurricanes and tornadoes. In each instance, the system worked to bring the full resources of the Federal, State and local governments to produce the most comprehensive and effective response possible. The system also leveraged the capabilities and resources of our nation’s cadre of volunteer organizations to provide immediate food and shelter. In recent years, government officials and agencies at all levels have begun to reach out to the business community to both leverage their response capabilities and to work closer with them in the recovery effort.
The September 11 terrorist attacks have caused all levels of government to reevaluate response procedures and protocols. The unusual loss of so many first responders to this disaster event has resulted in numerous after action evaluations that will likely lead to changes in the procedures and protocols for first responders in the future. Additionally, the possibility of future terrorism attacks has focused attention to how best to protect first responders from harm in future attacks.