Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency homepage on a monitor screen through a magnifying glass. FEMA is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security.

This year, in California alone, there were ten FEMA declared fire disasters. This demonstrates just how many disasters FEMA declares.

There are dozens of natural disasters each year that affect many Americans. The impacts of these events can be vast. Many of them, for example, cause deaths, destroy homes, impact clean water, and displace people from the region.

So, what is FEMA, and how does it work? Declaring a disaster and sending help are critical parts of the process.

Keep reading on to learn more about the FEMA disaster process and what that looks like.

What Is FEMA?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the official name of the nation’s disaster relief branch. State governments use this avenue when disaster strikes locally. Sometimes, larger disasters encompass more than one state. In this scenario, they require different disaster relief declarations.

FEMA arose in 1979 under President Carter’s administration. With the creation of this new disaster relief branch, regulations were put in place, and funds were dispersed to this new department. Since then, FEMA has gone through some changes.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the organization subsequently became a part of the Department of Homeland Security. President George W. Bush redesigned the program once more in 2006 to further help provide aid with natural disasters. This followed Hurricane Katrina, after people widely critiqued the government’s response.

What Does FEMA Do?

FEMA’s responsibilities are largely twofold. When declaring disaster, FEMA’s role is to assist the local governments in the clean-up and aftermath. They can provide federal grants to people affected by disasters.

These grants help citizens find housing, provide house repairs, and pay for medical expenses. It is important to note that FEMA does not reconstruct or rebuild someone’s house. However, they have partnerships with the Small Business Administration that look at giving people low-interest rates if they need a new house.

FEMA also works in a preventive manner. This means that the federal and local governments team up to prepare for future disasters and eliminate risks.

One of the major components of this is flood prevention. FEMA can provide monetary or physical assistant to local areas at high risk for flooding. They also work at deploying the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) when disaster hits.

The NDMS is critical to FEMA’s response – the team has medical doctors and nurses that provide on-site emergent care to victims.

Declaring Disasters

It is the responsibility of the Governor of a state to notify the federal government with a State of Emergency Executive Order. Once the federal government receives this, the President has to confirm the State of Emergency order.

At this point, there are two different disaster reliefs – emergency declarations and Major Disaster Declarations.

The local government is responsible for evaluating the damage and potential costs. This is important because there is a $5 million cap on emergency relief funds for an area. Next, a joint damage assessment is in place for the federal and local governments to evaluate an area for a Major Disaster Declaration.

This form is a separate declaration made by the Governor. The President makes that determination based on FEMA’s input. From that point, FEMA provides individual and public relief.

This takes place through waste and refuse removal, housing assistance, and implementing further protective measures, amongst other things.


With a Major Disaster Declaration, grants are dispersed through two avenues. The first one is public assistance.

With public assistance funds, FEMA gives these grants to the state governments where it is spread to local counties or Native American reservations. What does this cover?

These funds pay for infrastructure, public services, and other facilities. Some of the facilities that qualify for these grants are hospitals and universities. It can also help repair sewage and water lines.

Individual assistance funds help people by finding temporary housing or repairing homes. These are supplemental to one’s typical home insurance, not a replacement. For this reason, FEMA does not provide funds that rebuild an entire house.

These grants also have options for funding for medical, dental, or funeral care. When filing a claim, it is important to take photos of the damage, if applicable, and fill out an application online.


Typically, FEMA uses local businesses for clean-up and disaster relief. What does this mean exactly?

First, businesses register through the System for Award Management (SAM). Then, they apply through their disaster relief registry. Businesses like construction companies, offer trucks and other clean-up services that benefit areas.

For this reason, FEMA has separate opportunities and programs for them. These fall under transportation and debris removal companies. When disaster hits an area close by, these companies step in to assist. They are helpful with larger clean-ups, depending on their specialty.

Having reliable trucks and transportation for waste and debris removal is critical to disaster relief. These companies are highly valued and provide extensive support for a faster clean-up. This makes areas safe for residents to return to and assists with future disaster prevention.

FEMA Disaster Relief

When disaster strikes, FEMA is there providing assistance to local governments. It is important to remember that funds and monetary assistance vary based on the disaster declared and the extent of the damage.

Typically, FEMA uses local resources and companies for debris removal and construction. Quality companies that provide a range of new and used construction trucks are crucial to this process. Make sure to check out our fleet of trucks for rent or purchase today.