Disasters and Federal Government Involvement

Disasters are unavoidable and occur on a daily basis. The majority of the population is unaware that there is a problem. Historically, the federal government's involvement in disaster relief has been limited. In the event of a major disaster, the United States military has pledged help. In addition, there was little civilian involvement in disaster response. Nonetheless, federal engagement in disaster assistance intensified later in the 1950s, with various legislation established to mitigate calamity (Waugh, 2006). Throughout the years, the federal government has established new regulations to reduce the occurrence of big disasters. Yet, what impact do these policies and regulations have on disaster response? To answer this question, the paper shall examine and analyze policies put in place by the federal government to mitigate major disasters.

Homeland Security Act of 2002

Homeland Security Act is arguably the most important and recognized policy passed by the federal government. The Act was implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has been 16 years since the September 11 attacks, but for many Americans, troubling memories of that fateful day are still fresh, and countless lives have been changed. Thousands of people lost their lives in the attacks, and property worth millions destroyed. These attacks brought about momentary public confusion and overpowered the disaster response agencies. Unfortunately, unlike the other disasters, 9/11 attacks caught the federal government unawares. The main emergency response providers were the fire department, police officers, and personnel from the mayor's office. However, the immediate rescue operations were organized by the local residents (Krause, 2004). The local residents were overpowered due to lack of resources.

The Homeland Security Act led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security was instituted to safeguard United States from domestic and foreign threats. The department is charged with the responsibility of protecting key resources and infrastructure in America (Krause, 2004). To do this, the department has been authorized to monitor border movement, immigration, and cyber security. It is also involved in disaster rescue operations.

Enactment of the Homeland Security Act has impacted positively in disaster prevention. To start with, the Act has brought about improved coordination of federal, state and local agencies in response to incidents of terrorism. Every major federal and local agency is actively involved and their responsibilities clearly outlined. This has prevented confusion in the event of a terrorist attack. Another benefit is the prevention of planned terrorist attacks. Within the past several years, there have been a number of planned terrorist attacks that have been prevented by Homeland Security. For example, in 2007, federal homeland security agents arrested six terrorists who planned to attack the U.S Army base in New Jersey. In spite of this, the department has been criticized for invasion into personal space. Their operations require them to snoop into people without consent from the victims.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The second widely recognized government policy is the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979. The bureau is charged with the responsibility of coordinating disaster response. Formation of FEMA combined the disaster response functions performed by the different federal bureaus into one bureau, hence minimizing communication barriers in disaster response (Waugh, 2006). The agency was also given the authority to supervise the nation's Civil Defense. Over the years, the agency has expanded its functions. Apart from disaster response, FEMA gives aid to the states for disaster preparedness, and it manages the National Flood Insurance Program. In general, FEMA staff are not first responders. Instead, their most important responsibility is to provide financial support to local governments and states (Waugh, 2006). However, in 2003, FEMA was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security after implementation of the Homeland Security Act.

FEMA has received criticism from the public for slow response in some major disasters. The agency's response have at times caused barriers for other relief organizations. In some cases, it has blocked relief efforts from other organizations. For instance, in 2005, the agency's bureaucratic impairment during Hurricane Katrina caused a lot of problems.

Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA)

Another legislation put in place by the federal government is the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). This Act was implemented following the occurrence of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (Fugate, 2011). The hurricane was arguably the most destructive natural disaster in America's history. Hurricane Katrina resulted in displacement of people and massive loss of property. The disaster exposed FEMA's inability to coordinate disaster response. Coordination of rescue operations by FEMA during Hurricane Katrina was a total failure (Fugate, 2011). The agency failed in preparations, implementation and meeting the needs of those affected by this natural disaster.

Challenges in disaster response became apparent following the hurricane, leading to implementation of the Act in 2006. PKEMRA resulted in reorganization of FEMA. It provided an extensive new authority to mitigate the inefficiencies in disaster response. The functions of FEMA were also extended. The Act provides guidelines for transportation and relocation of victims affected by major natural calamities. In addition, the Act provides guidelines on how rescue operations should be conducted and how to handle victims with disability. Lastly, a system was established to reunite separated family members (Fugate, 2011). Rescue operators noted that many victims lost contact of their loved ones during natural calamities. To prevent this, PKEMRA put in place a system to help family members identify their loved ones.


In the event of a disaster, a majority of people immediately think of the first response personnel - police officers, fire department, emergency response unit, and medical officers, just to mention a few. And they should! This is because first responders are trained to deal with the aftermaths of a disaster. But behind the scenes, sits a team of experts and policy makers who come up with disaster response legislations. Over the past years, the federal government has implemented various policies and regulation to mitigate disasters. The most notable being the Homeland Security Act, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act (PKEMRA). The Homeland Security Act ranks as the best regulation to be enacted by the federal government. Formation of the Department of Homeland Security has helped greatly in stopping planned terrorist attacks on American soil. FEMA ranks as the second best policy enacted by the federal government. Even though FEMA has had its fair share of troubles, the agency has played a major role in disaster response. Finally, PKEMRA has also impacted positively on disaster response. The Act was implemented to address the incompetence of FEMA.


Fugate, C. (2011, October). Five Years Later: An Assessment of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act. In Proc. US Federal Emerg. Manag. Agency (pp. 1-36).

Krause, M. E. (2004). The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Air & Space Power Journal, 18(4), 117-120.

Waugh, W. L., & Streib, G. (2006). Collaboration and leadership for effective emergency management. Public administration review, 66(s1), 131-140.

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