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Published:November 25th, 2006 08:13 EST
The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Disaster Response

The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Disaster Response

By SOP newswire

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- During the first few hours or days following a disaster, individuals and families should be ready to act on behalf of their own safety. Local essential services, such as police, firefighters, medical teams and utility crews may be overwhelmed, and not immediately available. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may be called in to help following an emergency, it is not the primary responding agency for immediate disaster response.

"The fact is that many expect to see FEMA on the scene immediately, but it is the individuals themselves and then local and state emergency agencies who are first responders in a major emergency," said FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Bill Lokey. "With first responders often come the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other voluntary organizations to provide food, shelter and essential needs to displaced and injured families."

FEMA frequently leans far forward in pre-positioning resources and personnel when there is an imminent disaster threat such as a hurricane, but it is only after the president approves a Governor's request for a federal disaster declaration that the agency is permitted, by law, to respond with direct assistance to individuals and government entities affected by the disaster.

Resources that the agency may pre-position include water, blankets, ready-to-eat meals, generators, medical supplies, air transportation, and personnel, including medical teams and urban search and rescue (USAR) teams. If needed, FEMA calls on other federal agencies such as the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Public Health Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Defense, and Department of Justice to add their special capabilities and resources to the federal effort.

After a declaration FEMA also deploys community relations specialists into damaged neighborhoods to meet victims face-to-face, talk about their needs, and counsel them on how to get financial and other assistance to facilitate their recovery. FEMA recovery programs focus on helping disaster victims find temporary housing, repair their homes, replace personal possessions, and deal with other uninsured losses. FEMA also provides funds to help communities repair or replace damaged infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, pumping stations, electric utilities, to pay overtime for public safety personnel, and to help clear debris.

After a declaration when disaster victims call to register with FEMA for financial assistance, they are asked for personal information to determine their eligibility. This is one of the steps the agency takes to better ensure fiscal responsibility. Once an applicant's damaged property has been verified by a FEMA inspector, it is usually only a matter of days before the first assistance funds are approved. As the applicant's needs change, so does the assistance that is available from FEMA and other sources.

In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides low-interest disaster loans for renters, homeowners and businesses of all sizes. The SBA loan application is also used to evaluate the applicant's ongoing needs, even if that person does not receive an SBA disaster loan.

Alaskans can get disaster preparedness information by going to the State's website at, and clicking on Citizen Preparedness . Information is also available through FEMA's Plan Ahead link at

FEMA manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident, initiates mitigation activities and manages the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA works closely with State and local emergency managers, law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other first responders. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.