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Programs and Services for Rural Communities to Support Emergency Preparedness and Response

There are many programs and services to help rural communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster. These include private, state, and federal programs, services, and grants.

Federal Agencies

Federal policy and funding for rural communities and tribes is complex. For example, there are over 400 federal programs that are open to supporting rural economic and community development. These programs span 13 departments and 10 independent agencies. The following agencies serve in a Recovery Support Function (RSF) and are involved in providing disaster assistance:

  • Rural Development (RD), Department of Agriculture (USDA)
    • Offers loans, grants, and loan guarantees to support and promote economic development within rural communities
    • The Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Resources: A Guide for Rural Communities toolkit compiles RD programs that support rural preparedness, recovery, and resilience. The programs address housing and home repair, infrastructure and equipment, community facilities, telehealth and broadband connectivity, and business planning and recovery
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
    • Coordinates federal resources to support state and local governments who declare an emergency or major disaster, as described in the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act
    • Coordinating agency for the Community Planning and Capacity Building RSF
    • Primary agency for the five other RSFs: Economic, Health and Social Services, Housing, Infrastructure Systems, and Natural and Cultural Resources
  • Economic Development Administration (EDA), Department of Commerce
    • Coordinating agency for the Economic RSF
    • Primary agency for the Health and Social Services RSF
  • Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)
    • Coordinating agency for the Health and Social Services RSF
  • Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD)
    • Coordinating agency for the Housing RSF
    • Primary agency for the Health and Social Services and the Community Planning and Capacity Building RSFs
  • Army Corps of Engineers
    • Coordinating and primary agency for the Infrastructure Systems RSF
  • Department of the Interior
    • Coordinating agency for the Natural and Cultural Resources RSF
    • Primary agency for the Health and Social Services RSF

Other federal departments and agencies involved in providing disaster assistance and support include, for example:

  • National Guard Bureau, Department of Defense (DoD)
    • Collaborates with and supports local emergency and disaster response efforts, providing resources such as equipment, personnel, and expertise
  • Small Business Administration (SBA)
    • Provides funding opportunities, programs, resources, and other assistance to support rural businesses and underserved communities
  • Federal Reserve Banks
    • The 12 Reserve Banks ensure a ready supply of currency to meet increased demands following an emergency or disaster
    • Reserve Banks operate independently and are organized in 12 districts

Local and State Government Agencies

Local governments are the first in line for managing emergency response and recovery in rural areas. Local government agencies work closely with community partners and others to coordinate response and recovery efforts.

If a local community requires additional resources and assistance to respond to a specific emergency or disaster situation, local government should appeal to the state for assistance. Local government officials should make a request to the state Governor, who will assess the request in partnership with the state emergency management agency and other relevant offices and agencies.

Some rural communities have developed emergency funds. An emergency fund is designed to deliver assistance to community members affected by an emergency or disaster. Often, these funds are used to address immediate and critical needs, such as food, shelter, and medical care, to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of individuals. Some emergency funds are established as 501(c)(3) charitable, nonprofit organizations that are administered by local government. An emergency fund can be funded in different ways, such as private donations or grants.

To be eligible for assistance, an individual often needs to demonstrate a need. This may include photographic proof of damage or documentation of ownership or residency. Each local jurisdiction will have different eligibility requirements and procedures for accessing assistance, including government funds and emergency funds.

State Emergency Management Agencies

At the state level, emergency management agencies have several key responsibilities related to emergency preparedness and response. Key responsibilities of emergency management agencies include:

  • Assisting with incident management for local communities, including providing funding, coordination, and strategic planning
  • Providing incident command to direct a response to certain emergencies or disasters
  • Coordinating across states to ensure consistency in response approaches
  • Interfacing with federal authorities to help local communities request and receive federal assistance

The name and structure of emergency management agencies vary from state to state. Rural communities can use the directory to find their State Emergency Management Agency.

Private Programs, Philanthropy, and Community Foundations

Voluntary agencies are organizations that operate with the help of volunteers to provide aid and assistance. They can support emergency response and recovery by providing essential resources and assistance, such as food, water, shelter, and supplies. Some voluntary agencies can assist in all communities and regions. Others may only assist in specific regions or areas. Examples include:

Community foundations can provide philanthropic investments to support disaster recovery. In addition to funding, they can help coordinate and deliver resources such as food, water, and other supplies. They can support immediate, short-term, and long-term recovery. Community foundations can work with rural communities to support recovery.

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, many private foundations shifted their focus to respond to unexpected community needs using more flexible grantmaking. In many cases, this was called responsive or emergency grantmaking, and flexibility was seen in open deadlines, broader use of funds, and funding for projects outside a foundation's traditional strategic giving areas in order to respond quickly to urgent needs. An example of this was the Council on Foundations' pledge for philanthropy's commitment during COVID-19. This framework could serve as a model or topic of discussion when working with foundations and philanthropy groups during local, small-scale, and national emergencies in the future.

Tribal Organizations

Some organizations are focused specifically on supporting tribal communities with preparedness and response efforts. For example, Partnership with Native Americans provides aid and services to Native American and tribal communities, including resources for disaster preparedness, response, relief, and recovery.

Alternative Fundraising Options

Crowdfunding is a fundraising approach that involves raising money through an online donation page. Strategies for effective use of crowdfunding include involving a team to reach more people, posting frequent updates, and involving media.

Resources to Learn More

Disaster Recovery Programs
Provides an annotated list of resources supporting mitigation, response, and recovery from disasters and emergencies.
Organization(s): American Planning Association (APA)

Disaster Resiliency and Recovery Resources: A Guide for Rural Communities
Describes disaster assistance programs provided by USDA-RD and other federal agencies to help individuals, businesses, and communities in rural areas recover from disaster events.
Organization(s): USDA Rural Development (USDA-RD)
Date: 8/2021

How Banks Can Help Customers and Communities Respond to Major Disasters and Emergencies
Emphasizes the role of financial institutions in supporting customers and communities as they prepare, respond, and recover from emergencies and disasters.
Author(s): Murphy, A.
Organization(s): Consumer Compliance Outlook, 2020 (1)
Date: 2020