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History of FEMA

On April 1, 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed the executive order that created the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  The Agency was established to coordinate 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. 

Timeline of Events

Congressional Act of 1803

FEMA can trace its beginnings to the Congressional Act of 1803. This act, generally considered the first piece of disaster legislation, aided a New Hampshire town following an extensive fire. Over the next two centuries, the federal approach to disaster-related events became more popular. The 1960s and early 1970s brought massive disasters requiring major federal response and recovery operations. In 1972, President Nixon passed into law the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, firmly establishing the process of presidential disaster declarations.

Disaster Relief Act of 1974

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. To help centralize federal emergency functions, President Carter signed Executive Order 12127, effective April 1, 1979, establishing FEMA and activating his reorganization plan.

Establishment of FEMA and the Stafford Act

Our Agency’s authorities were further defined and expanded by the Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Amendments of 1988, which amended the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 and renamed it the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act). The Stafford Act provided clear direction for our role in emergency management and established the current statutory framework for disaster response and recovery through presidential disaster declarations.

Department of Homeland Security

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, then 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.

On March 1, 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act of 2006

Two years later, in August of 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 October 4, 2006. The act significantly reorganized FEMA and provided it new authority to remedy gaps that became apparent in Hurricane Katrina response efforts.

Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018

In 2017, an unprecedented and rapid succession of disasters transformed the way we look at emergency management and focused our efforts to build a culture of preparedness, ready the nation for catastrophic disasters, and reduce our Agency’s complexity. Congress provided us with expanded authorities to further these goals by enacting the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 (DRRA). As part of the efforts of DRRA to further reduce our Agency’s complexity, Pub 1 further details the history, mission, and core values of FEMA.

Today, FEMA remains committed to protecting and serving the American people before, during, and after disasters. We are focused on the people we serve and the belief in our survivor-centric mission.