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What Does FEMA Do?

By July 7, 2021September 30th, 2021Home

FEMA is the acronym for the Federal Emergency Management Agency tasked with helping Americans manage the worst types of disasters. The official FEMA mission is to, “support the citizens and first responders to promote that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.”

FEMA has been there to assist with disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, nuclear power plant meltdowns, and toxic contamination. Before disasters even strike, FEMA offers preparedness programs to help moderate or eliminate losses when disasters do happen.


What year was FEMA created?

President Jimmy Carter issued an executive order in 1979, creating FEMA and absorbing several other agencies. The new agency took on a host of responsibilities, including natural disasters and civil defense plans in the event of war. In 2003, FEMA became part of the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security.

Before the year when FEMA was formed, disaster management in the country was a mixture of impromptu legislation from local, state, and federal agencies. For instance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers managed certain facets of disaster mitigation, while other agencies provided insurance for disaster damage. At one point, over one hundred agencies dealt with disasters, many of them duplicating others’ efforts.


What role does FEMA play in the aftermath of a disaster?

FEMA’s duties are critical in meeting the needs of those who have been affected by a disaster. In addition to conducting damage assessments, the agency also supports local emergency management operations and sets up voluntary connections to support the religious, philanthropic, and nonprofit communities.

FEMA establishes points of distribution (POD), working with the National Guard to distribute water and tarps. They also make available Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC), which allow people to access information and financial assistance. FEMA also organizes and coordinates the efforts of other U.S. government agencies and departments.


What triggers a response from FEMA?

FEMA works when a state government or a federally-recognized Indian tribal government requests it. The governor of the state or the tribal chief executive makes a formal application for assistance, either for a major disaster or an emergency. They may request assistance in disaster relief for individuals, restore public systems, or match mitigation funds to reduce an area’s vulnerability.


What types of assistance programs does FEMA offer?

FEMA provides three kinds of grants to help communities:

  • Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA)
  • Public Assistance Program
  • Individual Assistance Program


Hazard Mitigation Assistance consists of three types of grants: Pre-Disaster Mitigation, Flood Mitigation Assistance, and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Hazard mitigation efforts can be, “any sustainable action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property from future disasters.” Several studies indicate that every $1 spent equals the prevention of $4 in future damages.

FEMA’s Public Assistance Program supports recovery from major disasters by providing communities with grant assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and permanent work such as restoring roads, buildings, utilities, and recreational areas. Since 2017, the Public Assistance Program has contributed over five billion dollars in grants.

The Individual Assistance Program provides financial assistance and services to eligible individuals and households. Its purpose is to help “meet basic needs and supplement disaster recovery efforts.”


Supporting patients and healthcare workers during COVID-19

Today, in the midst  of the COVID-19 pandemic, FEMA has partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prioritize medical supplies and equipment. By using data on COVID-19 activity, the agency helps to ensure that limited supplies get to areas where they are needed most. They have also been working with their partners to get medical supplies and equipment to front-line healthcare workers.

FEMA has supported testing across the country, working with governors and tribal leaders to ensure they have everything they need to reopen safely and responsibly.


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