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Disaster Authorities

There are many different authorities that define how FEMA responds to disasters. In this section, you can find information about how each of these authorities affect the agency’s operations.

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Visit our Guidance Documents page for more information on how we administer statutory and regulatory authorities.

Learn About Disaster Authorities

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act constitutes the statutory authority for most federal disaster response activities and established the presidential disaster declaration process.

The Disaster Mitigation Act amended the Stafford Act and requires hazard mitigation plans as a pre-requisite for certain kinds of non-emergency disaster assistance. The Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 also created the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program and added incentives for states deemed “enhanced” who demonstrate increased coordination and integration of mitigation activities.

The Defense Production Act is the primary source of presidential authorities to expedite and expand the supply of materials and services from the U.S. industrial base needed to promote the national defense. DPA authorities may support emergency activities related to the Stafford Act, and may also protect or restore critical infrastructure.  

On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina became the most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history. As a result, President George W. Bush signed into law the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act on Oct. 4, 2006. The act significantly reorganized FEMA and provided it new authority to remedy gaps that became apparent in Hurricane Katrina response efforts.

Following Hurricane Sandy’s Oct. 24, 2012 landfall, the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 authorizes several significant changes to the way FEMA may deliver federal disaster assistance to survivors.

Following the devastating hurricane and wildfire season of 2017, the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 brought about reforms that acknowledge the shared responsibility for disaster response and recovery, aim to reduce the complexity of FEMA, and build the nation’s capacity for the next catastrophic event.