Disaster Ready People 12 Month Guide – Regional vs. National Level Disasters

Think about what happens when there is a big disaster like a major earthquake, a category 4 or 5 hurricane, a cluster of tornadoes, a wild fire that burns a thousand homes, a severe winter storm, an extreme heat wave in a large city, or a terrorist attack. It takes time for help to arrive, if indeed it comes at all. The process for the federal government to declare a disaster and to begin moving help into an area is very time consuming. As it stands now, these are the steps that are taken:

The proper authority at the local level (mayor, town council, county board, etc.) must declare a disaster within 10 days of an event. In order for the disaster to be escalated to the state level, the Director of the Office of Emergency Services must concur. State and/or federal assistance will be provided only when the effects of the emergency are beyond the capability of local resources to effectively mitigate them. During this process and prior to the declaration of a disaster, only local help is available. Unfortunately, the quality of local help varies tremendously from one location to another.

Next the governor of the affected state declares a disaster, allowing the state to mobilize its resources. Some federal aid may be available at this point, but again, the caliber and availability of help varies widely from state to state.

If the disaster is large enough to warrant federal assistance, the President of the United States must declare the situation a disaster. The President has between 5 and 30 days to make such a declaration, depending on the circumstances. How much help will be extended depends on the type of disaster as well as the availability of resources.

Although most local authorities try to put together a plan for disaster, most local governments or agencies are, sadly, inadequately equipped and poorly organized. Even if local authorities are well organized, they themselves may be impacted by the disaster thus reducing or eliminating altogether their ability to assist. Even when a community has a good plan there is no way to be sure how well it will be implemented until disaster strikes.

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