Why Do We Need Federal Disaster Relief?
This is a guest post by Logan Harper, the Community Manager for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hillís online Masters in Public Administration program Ė a top degree for public service leaders.
Four days into the New Year, while under mounting pressure from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Congress approved $9.7 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy relief. The bill will allow the FEMA-administered National Flood Insurance Program to pay out claims to businesses, homeowners and renters affected by Sandy and help with the ongoing relief effort to restore the region.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the most prominent agency for involved in disaster relief. FEMA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for the federal government’s role in disaster prevention, preparation, response, and recovery.
FEMA was established on April 1, 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. One of the first disasters the agency faced was the partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant; as part of its response to the accident, FEMA launched the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program to handle preparation for future nuclear power plant accidents as well as ensure the health and safety of people residing in close proximity to nuclear power plant. Since its inception, FEMA has handled crises ranging from natural disasters such as the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and manmade disasters including the toxic contamination of Love Canal.
In order to effectively respond to national disasters, FEMA has developed a comprehensive emergency system to aid in relief efforts. The agency, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has ten regional offices across the country. Each office works with strategic partners as well as federal, local, state, tribal governments and non-profits. The offices implement necessary relief measures and reduce the extent of damage within its respective region.
However, before FEMA can participate in any recovery efforts, the president must declare a major disaster. Once a disaster has been declared, federal funding for emergency work becomes available on a cost-sharing basis to eligible state and local governments.
While the President is in charge of authorizing FEMAís involvement in relief efforts, FEMA is responsible for ensuring a quality federal response to disasters. As part of its efforts to help state and local recovery, FEMA developed the National Disaster Recovery Framework (NDRF), a guide to promote effective coordination and recovery planning across all levels of government before a disaster occurs.
The NDRF defines six primary recovery areas, assigning one to a corresponding federal agency that supports local governments with recovery efforts in that area. FEMA handles community planning and capacity building, the Department of Commerce is responsible for economic recovery, the Department of Health and Human Services deals with health and social services, the Department of Housing Urban Development handles housing, the Army Corps of Engineers addresses infrastructure systems, and the Department of the Interior focuses on natural and cultural resources.
Presently in field-testing in Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee, the FEMA seeks to use the NDRF to construct a structure that encourages concentrated focus during recovery and formally establishes how the United States responds to a disaster.