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A FEMA Primer

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is tasked with responding to, planning for, recovering from, and mitigating against disasters, both natural and man-made. When a disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina, goes beyond state or local capacity to respond, the President often declares an emergency or a disaster. FEMA then responds with disaster support while coordinating the assistance of up to 27 other agencies and volunteer organizations.
FEMA's History
Established in 1979, FEMA was the offspring of a number of federal agencies that had been functioning in an independent and uncoordinated manner to protect the country against natural disasters and nuclear holocaust. An executive order from President Carter merged many of the separate disaster-related responsibilities into a new FEMA. Among other agencies, FEMA absorbed the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness Program, the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration, and the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration activities from HUD. Civil defense responsibilities were also transferred to the new agency from the Defense Department's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency.
In March 2003, FEMA became part of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Under DHS, FEMA is responsible for coordinating federal disaster relief efforts. FEMA initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and U.S. Fire Administration.
FEMA's Role
When major disasters strike, FEMA provides disaster assistance to meet the emergency needs of families and individuals, and FEMA helps to pay for the rebuilding and repair of critical community infrastructure. FEMA's role includes advising on building codes and flood plain management, teaching disaster victims coping techniques, helping to equip local and state emergency preparedness, coordinating the federal response to a disaster, making disaster assistance available to states, communities, businesses and individuals, training emergency managers, supporting the nation's fire service, and administering the national flood and crime insurance programs.
The National Response Plan
Published in December 2004, the National Response Plan was developed to align federal coordination structures, capabilities, and resources into a unified all-discipline and all-hazards approach to domestic incident management. The plan was to tie together a complete spectrum of incident management activities to include the prevention of, preparedness for, response to, and recovery from terrorism, major natural disasters, and other major emergencies. The end result was to have vastly improved coordination among federal, state, local, and tribal organizations to help save lives and protect America's communities by increasing the speed, effectiveness, and efficiency of incident management.