Disaster Declarations


Local and State governments share the responsibility for protecting their citizens from disasters, and for helping them to recover when a disaster strikes. In some cases, a disaster is beyond the capabilities of the State and local government to respond.

Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act

In 1988, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206, was enacted to support State and local governments and their citizens when disasters overwhelm them. This law, as amended, establishes a process for requesting and obtaining a Presidential disaster declaration, defines the type and scope of assistance available from the Federal government, and sets the conditions for obtaining that assistance.

The Stafford Act (§401) requires: “All requests for a declaration by the President that a major disaster exists shall be made by the Governor of the affected State.”[1]

Disaster Assistance Process

Based on the Governors request, the President may declare that a major disaster or emergency exists, thus activating an array of Federal programs to assist in the response and recovery effort.

West, Texas – Disaster Declaration[4]
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Not all programs, however, are activated for every disaster. The determination of which programs are activated is based on the needs found during damage assessment and any subsequent information that may be discovered.

FEMA disaster assistance falls into three general categories:

  • Individual Assistance – aid to individuals and households;
  • Public Assistance – aid to public (and certain private non-profit) entities for certain emergency services and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged public facilities;
  • Hazard Mitigation Assistance – funding for measures designed to reduce future losses to public and private property. Some declarations will provide only individual assistance or only public assistance. Hazard mitigation opportunities are assessed in most situations.

Some declarations will provide only individual assistance or only public assistance. Hazard mitigation opportunities are assessed in most situations.[2]

FEMA Disaster Declarations Summary Database

FEMA Disaster Declarations Summary is a database describing all federally declared disasters. This information begins with the first disaster declaration in 1953 and features all three disaster declaration types: major disaster, emergency and fire management assistance. The dataset includes declared recovery programs and geographic areas (county not available before 1964; Fire Management records are considered partial due to historical nature of the dataset).[3]



  1. FEMA – Disaster Declaration Process Fact Sheet: http://www.fema.gov/declaration-process-fact-sheet
    FEMA – The Stafford Act – April 2013: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/15271
  2. A Guide to the Disaster Declaration Process and Federal Disaster Assistance – http://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/6094?id=2127
  3. FEMA Disaster Declarations Summary: Website – http://www.fema.gov/disasters
  4. Image Source: http://governor.state.tx.us/photos/18399/ [Accessed: September 15, 2013]