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How to Request Assistance for Emergency Preparedness and Response

All requests for a federal disaster declaration by the President must be made by the Governor of the affected state. The Governor's request is made through the regional FEMA office. For tribal governments, the National Tribal Affairs Advisor is the point of contact between the FEMA Administrator, FEMA's Regional Tribal Liaisons, and tribal governments across the country.

The first place for local agencies to start when requesting emergency assistance is to contact the State Administrative Agency (SAA). SAA staff will be able to provide the required steps and documentation needed for the declaration process. Once the request is submitted, the SAA will decide whether the severity and magnitude of the emergency or disaster is beyond the capability of local and state governments and when federal assistance is needed to save lives; protect public property, safety, and health; and lessen or avert the threat of disaster.

Federally recognized tribal governments have the option of pursuing a federal disaster declaration directly from the President. Tribal Declarations Pilot Guidance, developed by FEMA, provides detailed and specific guidance for tribal federal disaster declaration requests.

FEMA's video, How Federal Assistance Reaches Your Community after a Disaster, outlines the steps to disaster declarations and how local disasters qualify for public assistance. The general steps include:

  1. The state identifies a disaster.
  2. Damage assessments are conducted.
  3. State officials review the damage to determine the extent of the disaster and its impacts on people, property, and public health.
  4. The Governor makes the determination if the locality and the state have enough resources for disaster response.
  5. If the state needs additional resources, there will be an assessment of the type and amount of federal assistance that is needed.
  6. A major disaster declaration request will be submitted through FEMA.
  7. The President reviews the request to decide if a major disaster should be declared.
  8. The President declares a disaster.
  9. FEMA begins to support the response with funding, supplies, and personnel.
  10. FEMA works with state and local authorities to respond.

Typically, states will require the local governments requesting assistance to complete a Preliminary Damage Assessment to survey and calculate the estimated damage from the emergency or disaster. To assist with the process, FEMA's Preliminary Damage Assessments Guide (PDA Guide) and the PDA Pocket Guide provide a framework for emergency management officials to conduct damage assessments. Additional resources include the Public Assistance Initial Damage Assessment Checklist and Individual Assistance Initial Damage Assessment Checklist. The checklists walk emergency management officials through the information and documentation that will need to be collected. For more information, see Assess Impact and Damage Post-Emergency.

If a rural community or tribe does not have an emergency manager or emergency planner, it might wish to designate a staff member to learn about the process for requesting assistance. Opportunities to learn about emergency management and build capacity for requesting assistance include:

If the local government and the state do not have the capacity to complete an accurate and timely damage assessment, the state may request a joint Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA). FEMA will then work with the requesting agency to develop a PDA coordination plan. The joint PDA may be done in-person or virtually depending on the level of information available in the initial damage assessment. After the completion of the joint PDA, the report will be returned to the state for a determination on whether a disaster declaration is warranted.

Resources to Learn More

Damage Assessment Operations Manual: A Guide to Assessing Damage and Impact
Offers assistance for emergency management practitioners and other stakeholders by defining national standards for assessing damage and identifying the information necessary to expedite evaluation requests for Stafford Act assistance.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Date: 4/2016

Emergency Management Institute (EMI) Distance Learning
Provides online, self-paced courses for emergency management personnel and the public at no cost for those who qualify.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA YouTube
Shares videos on disaster and emergency preparedness planning, training, response, and recovery.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

How a Disaster Gets Declared
Discusses procedures and related requirements regarding the Stafford Act declaration process for emergency managers, elected officials, media, and others interested in the formal disaster declaration process. Includes information on different types of declarations and assistance offered as well as requirements for requesting assistance.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Code of Federal Regulations Title 44 Part 206 – Federal Disaster Assistance
Provides public access to text of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. Describes declaration process and different types of federal assistance.
Organization(s): Cornell Law School, Legal Information Institute (LII)
Date: 3/1989

Legal Preparedness Series
A toolkit series to help public health officials understand and use provisions of the law or regulation when preparing and responding to public health emergencies. Addresses legal questions and concerns that may impede the development of a plan and a response to natural disasters, outbreaks of infectious disease, and other emergency events.
Organization(s): Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)

Preliminary Damage Assessments
Offers information and tools for conducting preliminary damage assessments (PDAs) to establish extent of destruction and impact of disaster.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

Tribal Declarations Pilot Guidance
A resource for tribal governments on Stafford Act declarations, disaster assistance, and other related requirements to assist them when developing tribal declaration requests. Includes FEMA criteria used in evaluating declaration requests.
Organization(s): Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Date: 1/2017