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FAQs: Current Process for Tribal Governments to Request a Presidential Declaration

The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA) amended the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 5121 et seq., (Stafford Act) to provide federally recognized Indian tribal governments (tribal governments) the option to request a Presidential emergency or major disaster declaration independently of a state.

This Frequently Asked Questions document supports the Tribal Declaration Pilot Guidance, which FEMA published on January 10, 2017 and the Tribal Declarations Pilot Guidance Fact Sheet. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can my tribal government request a Stafford Act declaration directly from the President, independently of a state?

Indian tribal governments must be federally recognized to request a declaration directly from the President (through FEMA) without going to the state. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) maintains a list of the 573 federally recognized tribes.

Outside of the 573 federally recognized tribes, there are many state recognized tribes and tribes in the process of obtaining federal recognition. These tribes are not eligible under the Stafford Act to request a declaration directly from the President. However, depending on the tribe and the state, a state recognized tribe may be eligible to receive assistance as a sub-recipient of a state declaration.

Is my tribal government required to request presidential Stafford Act declarations independently of a state?

No. The Stafford Act, as amended, allows that federally recognized tribal governments determine for themselves how they want to seek Stafford Act assistance. A Chief Executive of a federally recognized tribal government may request (through FEMA) the President declare an emergency or major disaster for the tribal government or be considered as part of a state’s declaration request. The tribal government, however, cannot receive the same type of assistance (i.e., Public Assistance, Individual Assistance, Hazard Mitigation) through both tribal and state declarations for the same incident.

Additionally, should the state receive a declaration which includes tribal lands or infrastructure, and the tribal government chooses to seek Public Assistance and/or Hazard Mitigation under the state’s declaration rather than a tribal declaration, the tribal government still has the choice to be either a sub-recipient or recipient for Public Assistance and/or Hazard Mitigation under the state declaration.

What types of declarations can my tribal government request?

Emergency and major disaster declaration requests.

Can my tribal government directly request Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs)?

No.  During the pilot period, FEMA will evaluate the FMAG Program and fire management needs unmet by other federal agency programs to determine if any changes are needed to the FMAG Program.  Tribal governments should continue to coordinate with the appropriate state Governors in the event the tribal government is impacted by a fire and has fire management needs not met by the tribal government or other federal agencies.

What are the immediate steps my tribal government must take before it can request a declaration?

The following steps must take place before your tribal government can request a major disaster declaration (all the steps below are explained in more detail in the Tribal Declaration Pilot Guidance):

  • Tribal government activates its Emergency Plan
  • Tribal government conducts an initial damage assessment
  • Tribal government requests FEMA-Tribal Joint Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs)
  • FEMA and tribal government conduct Joint PDAs
  • Tribal government requests a major disaster declaration

In the event of an incident with such severe and obvious impact, a tribal government can request an expedited major disaster declaration. In this situation, Joint PDAs may be waived.

Emergency declaration requests follow a similar process as the major disaster declaration. However, Joint PDAs are not a requirement of an emergency declaration request. Many emergency declarations are requests for direct federal assistance for emergency protective measures in anticipation of a major disaster.

What are the requirements of an emergency plan?

Before requesting a declaration, your tribal government must confirm that it has activated its emergency plan. FEMA regulations do not specify legal requirements for what is contained in an emergency plan; only that a tribal government has one and activates it before requesting a declaration.

Tribal government representatives can learn more about developing an emergency plan by referring to Comprehensive Preparedness Guide 101: Developing and Maintaining Emergency Operations Plans. Additionally, tribal government representatives can participate in a number of courses at the Emergency Management Institute, including courses in FEMA’s Tribal Curriculum.

What support is available if my tribal government does not have the technical expertise to conduct initial damage assessments?

At any time, tribal government representatives can reach out to FEMA Regional staff to request technical assistance and support. For more information about damage assessments refer to the FEMA Damage Assessment Operations Manual.

Which tribal official(s) can submit declaration requests?

The Stafford Act authorizes the Chief Executive of federally recognized tribal governments to submit emergency and major disaster declaration requests. The Stafford Act defines the Chief Executive as the person who is the Chief, Chairman, Chairwoman, Governor, President, or similar executive official of an Indian tribal government.

In the Chief Executive’s absence, the Acting Chief Executive, as determined by tribal law, may submit the request on the Chief Executive’s behalf. The Acting Chief Executive must provide documentation that he/she has authority to act on behalf of the Chief Executive.

How does my Chief Executive submit a request for an emergency or major disaster declaration?

The Chief Executive must submit FEMA Form 010-0-13: Request for Presidential Disaster Declaration; Major Disaster or Emergency. The form includes the minimum necessary information and certifications legally required by the Stafford Act for a declaration request and must be signed by the Chief Executive or his/her authorized designee.  Failure to complete the form may result in failure to meet those requirements and may delay the processing of the declaration request.

A cover letter, addressed to the President sent through the FEMA Regional Administrator, in support of the Chief Executive’s request should accompany the form.  The cover letter provides the Chief Executive the opportunity to include additional information regarding the impacts of the event on the tribal government and how the impacts are beyond the tribal government’s capability and other available resources. FEMA has developed a cover letter template to demonstrate the type of information that will support a declaration request.

What types of information are included in the declaration request?

  • Certification that the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceed tribal government capabilities and that Federal assistance is needed to supplement the efforts of the tribal government, disaster relief organizations, and insurance.
  • Confirmation of the tribe’s emergency plan execution, to include the date on which the plan was activated.
  • An estimate of the severity of damages and the type and amount of federal assistance needed.
  • Description of the geographic area impacted by the event.
  • Tribal resources and other federal agency resources that have been or will be committed to alleviate the results of the disaster.
  • Incident type (i.e., major disaster or emergency) and incident period (the time interval during which the incident occurred).
  • Certification that the tribal government will comply with all applicable cost-sharing requirements of the Stafford Act.
  • Completion of the form will ensure that these requirements are met.

When does the request need to be submitted?

Emergency and major disaster declaration requests must be submitted within 30 days of the date of the incident.  If the incident occurs over multiple days, then the 30 days starts on the last day of the incident.

If the tribal government needs additional time to submit a request, then the Chief Executive may submit a written request for a time extension within 30 days of the date of the incident, including the amount of time needed and an explanation of why additional time is needed.  Time extension requests should be addressed to the Associate Administrator, Office of Response and Recovery, through the FEMA Regional Administrator.

Is there a cost share for disaster assistance programs?

Many Stafford Act assistance programs require a cost share to be covered by the tribal government or state grantee, such as:

  • Generally, twenty-five (25) percent of the costs for eligible emergency protective measures, debris removal and/or infrastructure repair and replacement awarded as part of the Public Assistance program.  The President has the authority to adjust or waive this cost share.
  • Twenty-five (25) percent of the funds awarded through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
  • Twenty-five (25) percent of the disaster assistance awarded for the Other Needs Assistance provision of the Individuals and Households Program.

What happens after my Chief Executive submits a declaration request?

After the request is submitted, FEMA reviews and validates the information, then makes a recommendation to the President. The President has the sole discretion to declare an emergency or major disaster.

What criteria does FEMA use to evaluate a declaration request and make a recommendation to the President?

FEMA’s recommendation to the President is informed by the results of the joint PDA, as well as other pertinent information provided in the declaration request via FEMA Form 010-0-13 and cover letter, and is guided by factors listed in the Pilot Guidance.

For Public Assistance, FEMA evaluates the estimated cost of assistance (there is a minimum damage amount of $250,000), localized impacts, insurance coverage in force, hazard mitigation, recent multiple disasters, and programs of other federal assistance.

For Individual Assistance, FEMA evaluates the concentration of damages, availability of housing resources, impact to community infrastructure, trauma, special populations, voluntary agency assistance, and insurance.

How will my tribal government be notified of the President’s decision?

Once the President makes a determination, FEMA’s Regional Administrator will promptly notify the Chief Executive or the Chief Executive’s designee of the President’s decision.

Should the President declare an emergency or major disaster, can my tribal government request a cost share adjustment?

Yes. The Chief Executive may request an adjustment to the Public Assistance cost share. FEMA will recommend an adjustment based upon a per capita threshold that is updated annually for inflation.

What if the declaration request is denied?

If the tribal government’s declaration request is denied, the tribal government will receive a letter of the decision.  The Chief Executive may appeal the decision within 30 days of the date of the denial letter and should include additional information to support the appeal.  The appeal should be submitted to the President through the appropriate FEMA Regional Administrator.

Additionally, a tribal government may consider becoming a recipient or sub-recipient under a concurrent state declaration if appropriate and applicable.

If my tribe does not have an approved Tribal Mitigation Plan, then is the Chief able to request a major disaster declaration authorizing Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation?

Yes. However, the President will not authorize Public Assistance permanent work or Hazard Mitigation under a major disaster declaration to an affected tribal government that does not have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan.

If the President declares a major disaster for a tribal government without a FEMA-approved mitigation plan, he will only authorize Individual Assistance and/or Public Assistance emergency work. The tribal government then has 30 days from the date of the declaration to submit an approved mitigation plan.  If the tribal government is unable to submit an approved mitigation plan within 30 days of the date of declaration, the tribal government may request an extension of up to 90 additional days.  If an extension is needed, the tribal government must submit a written request for a time extension addressed to the Associate Administrator, Office of Response and Recovery, through the FEMA Regional Administrator.  The extension should be requested before the initial 30-day period expires.

During this period of up to 120 days, the tribal government may work with FEMA to develop Public Assistance project worksheets or applications for Hazard Mitigation assistance.  However, if no Tribal Mitigation Plan is submitted, adopted, and approved within this timeframe, FEMA will stop work on any Public Assistance permanent work worksheets and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program applications that were under development and will not reimburse the tribal government for costs associated with the development of the worksheets or applications.

FEMA recommends a tribal government without an approved Tribal Mitigation Plan coordinate with the FEMA Regional office to discuss the implications of the timing of making a declaration request and about the development of an approved Tribal Mitigation Plan.

Where can my tribal government find out more information about Mitigation Plans?

FEMA mitigation and regional staff are always available to provide support and technical assistance to tribal governments in the development of Mitigation Plans. Additionally, there are multiple tools and resources for developing Tribal Mitigation Plans, including the following:

If the President declares an emergency or major disaster for my tribal government, then how does my tribal government get assistance authorized in the declaration?

After the President declares an emergency or major disaster, the tribal government will be required to sign a FEMA-Tribe Agreement that contains the understandings, commitments, and conditions under which FEMA’s disaster assistance will be provided. Pursuant to FEMA’s regulations, FEMA cannot authorize disaster funding or direct federal assistance until the FEMA-Tribe Agreement has been signed.

The tribal government also needs to have the following plans before FEMA is able to provide assistance to the tribal government or disaster survivors:

In addition, tribal governments need access to the payment management system FEMA uses to transfer Public Assistance and Hazard Mitigation funding to the tribal government.

More information on FEMA’s Tribal Policy and the tribal declarations process is available at

Last Updated: 
05/24/2019 - 14:49