The spring season is upon us, which often brings volatile, fast-moving weather systems to many parts of the country (as we’ve already seen). We’ve done several blog posts about our role in winter weather and spring flooding, so we wanted to give the basics of FEMA’s role in severe storms and tornadoes.
The bottom line is that – as with all disasters – FEMA is only a part of the emergency management team that helps the nation prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. This team includes federal, state, local and tribal officials, the faith-based and non-profit communities, the private sector and - most importantly – the public.
Just after a storm or tornado
When a severe storm or tornado hits, the first responders are local emergency and public works personnel, volunteers, humanitarian organizations, and numerous private interest groups who provide emergency assistance required to protect the public's health and safety and to meet immediate human needs.
In some cases, the damage to the community and needs of residents overwhelms the resources of state, territory, tribal, local government, and voluntary agencies. It’s these instances where a governor may request a major disaster declaration from the president to provide supplemental federal disaster assistance.
When does a governor make a request?
Sometimes the governor makes a request soon after the storm ends, and in other cases, a governor may wait in order to get a full assessment of the damage, before requesting a disaster declaration.
A major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work.
To explain what we mean by “assistance”, here’s an excerpt from one of our previous blog posts on the disaster declaration process:
A major disaster declaration request will also include a request for assistance under one or two broad categories of assistance, which we refer to as public assistance (PA) and individual assistance (IA). Public assistance is financial assistance for repairing public infrastructure, like roads, schools, fire stations, etc.
Individual assistance can be provided to eligible individuals and households who are uninsured, or under-insured, and suffered losses due to disaster damage. It’s important to remember that by law, the amount of individual assistance a person or household can receive is capped (just over $30,000 for this year), and may not cover losses to the extent that a flood insurance policy would, which is why we are often encouraging families to purchase insurance. This assistance is also intended to support only necessary and serious needs that resulted from the disaster. The best way to make sure you and your family are protected against the devastating impacts of flooding is to have flood insurance.
FEMA is also able to provide assistance by serving as a coordinator for the federal agencies that can help support response and recovery efforts. For example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses its engineering and contracting capabilities to support FEMA and other federal, state and local government agencies in a wide variety of missions during natural and man-made disasters. Learn more here.
While we can’t fully predict when and where severe storms and tornadoes will occur, the entire emergency management team – a team that includes the public – can take steps now to reduce their impact. Visit Ready.gov for an outline on how to get prepared for any disaster.
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