This section of the site contains information on agency leadership, policies, budget, strategic plans, and other agency information. This page provides the agency mission and outlines the agency's history.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure 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.
For 35 years, FEMA's mission remains: to lead America to prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters with a vision of "A Nation Prepared."
FEMA: 35 Years of Commitment
On April 1, 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed the executive order that created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). From day one, FEMA has remained committed to protecting and serving the American people. That commitment to the people we serve and the belief in our survivor centric mission will never change.
As of April, 2014, FEMA has 14,844 employees across the country – at headquarters, the ten regional offices, the National Emergency Training Center, Center for Domestic Preparedness/Noble Training Center and other locations.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.
FEMA can trace its beginnings to the Congressional Act of 1803. This act, generally considered the first piece of disaster legislation, provided assistance to a New Hampshire town following an extensive fire.
In the century that followed, ad hoc legislation was passed more than 100 times in response to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.
By the 1930s, when the federal approach to disaster-related events became popular, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was given authority to make disaster loans for repair and reconstruction of certain public facilities following an earthquake, and later, other types of disasters.
- In 1934, the Bureau of Public Roads was given authority to provide funding for highways and bridges damaged by natural disasters.
- The Flood Control Act of 1965, which gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers greater authority to implement flood control projects, was also passed.
- This piecemeal approach to disaster assistance was problematic. Accordingly, it prompted legislation to require greater cooperation between federal agencies and authorized the President to coordinate these activities.
- The 1960s and early 1970s brought massive disasters requiring major federal response and recovery operations by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, established within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
- These events served to focus attention on the issue of natural disasters and brought about increased legislation.
- In 1968, the National Flood Insurance Act created the Federal Insurance Administration and made flood insurance available for the first time to homeowners.
- The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 made the purchase of flood insurance mandatory for the protection of property located in Special Flood Hazard Areas.
- In the year following, President Nixon passed into law the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, firmly establishing the process of Presidential disaster declarations.
- However, emergency and disaster activities were still fragmented. When hazards associated with nuclear power plants and the transportation of hazardous substances were added to natural disasters, more than 100 federal agencies were involved in some aspect of disasters, hazards and emergencies.
- Many parallel programs and policies existed at the state and local level, simplifying the complexity of federal disaster relief efforts.
- The National Governor's Association sought to decrease the many agencies with which state and local governments were forced work. They asked President Carter to centralize federal emergency functions.
Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, Public Law 100-707, signed into law November 23, 1988; amended the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, Public Law 93-288. It created the system in place today by which a presidential disaster declaration of an emergency triggers financial and physical assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Act gives FEMA the responsibility for coordinating government-wide relief efforts.
It is designed to bring an orderly and systemic means of federal natural disaster assistance for state and local governments in carrying out their responsibilities to aid citizens.
Congress' intention was to encourage states and localities to develop comprehensive disaster preparedness plans, prepare for better intergovernmental coordination in the face of a disaster, encourage the use of insurance coverage, and provide federal assistance programs for losses due to a disaster.
This Act constitutes the statutory authority for most federal disaster response activities especially as they pertain to FEMA and FEMA programs.
Executive Order 12127
President Carter's 1979 executive order merged many of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Among other agencies, FEMA absorbed:
- The Federal Insurance Administration
- The National Fire Prevention and Control Administration
- The National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program
- The Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration
- The Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD
- Civil defense responsibilities were also transferred to the new agency from the Defense Department's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency
John Macy was named as FEMA's first director in 1981. Macy emphasized the similarities between natural hazards preparedness and the civil defense activities. FEMA began development of an Integrated Emergency Management System with an all-hazards approach. This approach encompassed "direction, control and warning systems which are common to the full range of emergencies from small isolated events to the ultimate emergency - war." The new agency was faced with many unusual challenges in its first few years that emphasized how complex emergency management can be. Early disasters and emergencies included the contamination of Love Canal, the Cuban refugee crisis and the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Later, the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992 focused major national attention on FEMA.
James L. Witt
In 1993, President Clinton nominated James L. Witt as the new FEMA director, becoming the first agency director with experience as a state emergency manager. He initiated sweeping reforms that streamlined disaster relief and recovery operations, insisted on a new emphasis regarding preparedness and mitigation, and focused agency employees on customer service. The end of the Cold War also allowed Witt to redirect more of FEMA's limited resources from civil defense into disaster relief, recovery and mitigation programs.
Joe M. Allbaugh
In February 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Joe M. Allbaugh as the director of FEMA. He served until FEMA's transfer into the newly created Department of Homeland Security, after which he resigned in March 2003.
Michael Brown was appointed in January 2003 also by President George W. Bush and resigned soon after Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.
Robert David Paulison
Robert David Paulison was appointed by President George W. Bush on September 12, 2005. At the 2009 National Hurricane Conference, he announced he would resign January 21, 2009.
W. Craig Fugate
Craig Fugate was appointed as the FEMA Administrator in May 2009 by President Barack Obama and remains as the current Administrator (April, 2014). His nomination received bi-partisan support in congress.
A New Mission: Homeland Security
On March 1, 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The agency coordinated its activities with the newly formed Office of Homeland Security, and FEMA's Office of National Preparedness was given responsibility for helping to ensure that the nation's first responders were trained and equipped to deal with weapons of mass destruction.
Within months, the terrorist attacks of Sept.11th focused the agency on issues of national preparedness and homeland security, and tested the agency in unprecedented ways.
Billions of dollars of new funding were directed to FEMA to help communities face the threat of terrorism. Just a few years past its 20th anniversary, FEMA was actively directing its "all-hazards" approach to disasters toward homeland security issues.
In March 2003, FEMA joined 22 other federal agencies, programs and offices in becoming the Department of Homeland Security.
The new department, headed by Secretary Tom Ridge, brought a coordinated approach to national security from emergencies and disasters - both natural and man-made.
On October 4, 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act. The act significantly reorganized FEMA, provided it substantial new authority to remedy gaps that became apparent in the response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, and included a more robust preparedness mission for FEMA.
An Innovative Cost-Saving Partnership to Strengthen Disaster Response and Expand Opportunities for Young People
On March 13, 2012, the White House announced an innovative partnership between the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to establish a FEMA-devoted unit of 1,600 service corps members within AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) solely devoted to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery.
This partnership builds on the historic collaboration between the two agencies and will enhance the federal government's disaster capabilities, increase the reliability and diversity of the disaster workforce, promote an ethic of service, expand education and economic opportunity for young people, and achieve significant cost savings for the American taxpayer. When the program is at full operational capability, and in an average disaster year, we expect to see a savings of approximately $60 million in a year.