An Explanation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency

As of October 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, more commonly referred to as FEMA, had nearly 7,500 employees across the nation. This massive federal agency has 10 regional offices, a National Emergency Training Center, a Center for Domestic Preparedness/Noble Training Center, and a plethora of other locations. FEMA doesn’t work alone, however, as it is part of a team that includes partners at the state, local, tribal, and federal level, as well as groups and organizations in the private and non-profit sectors.

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The goal of FEMA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (as of 2003), is to “plan, prepare and mitigate” before, during, and after manmade and natural disasters and acts of terrorism. FEMA provides disaster survivor assistance and has a number of tools, teams, and public assistance programs to help during response and recovery operations.

It is the mission of FEMA to support the citizens and first responders by ensuring that the country works together to “prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of all disasters.” It’s a big organization with a big job to do, so you can be sure the organization has a deep bench of experts with a lot of experience on top of advanced degrees in emergency management.

The History of FEMA

Although federal government assistance and disaster legislation can be traced back to the Congressional Act of 1803, it wasn’t until President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 executive order that federal government emergency functions became centralized and focused and the Federal Emergency Management Agency was formed. At this time, FEMA absorbed a number of federal agencies, including: the Federal Insurance Administration, the National Weather Service Community Preparedness program, the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration, and the Federal Preparedness Agency of the General Services Administration. The Defense Department also transferred its civil defense responsibilities at that time.

One of the first goals of FEMA upon its creation was to develop an Integrated Emergency Management System, which includes an “all-hazards” approach, meaning that it would be capable of handling a full range of emergencies, from small, isolated events to a major national event such as war.

The critical role of FEMA, however, may not have been realized until the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when national preparedness and homeland security tested the agency’s programs and systems. The newly formed Office of Homeland Security coordinated its activities with FEMA to ensure the nation’s first responders were well-trained and equipped to deal with the nation’s terror threats.

The Organizational Structure of FEMA

States within FEMA are divided into one of 10 regions. Other major components of FEMA include:

  • Office of Response and Recovery – Improves the coordination and delivery of support to citizens and to government organizations at all levels to protect property and recover from all hazards
  • Mission Support Bureau – Works to improve services to all internal and external customers; organized around the following six offices:
    • Office of the Chief Security Officer
    • Office of the Chief Procurement Officer
    • Office of the Chief Information Officer
    • Office of the Chief Component Human Capital Officer
    • Office of the Chief Administrative Officer
    • Enterprise Business Unit
  • Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) – Oversees the National Flood Insurance Program and a number of other programs that are designed to reduce loss to homes, building, and other critical facilities due to natural disasters
  • Protection and Natural Preparedness – Responsible for coordinating all activities related to preparedness and protection, such as grants, community preparedness, emergency management training, and planning
  • United States Fire Administration – Provides leadership for all fire and emergency services stakeholders

FEMA offices include:

  • Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
  • Office of the Chief Financial Officer
  • Officer of Disability Integration and Coordination
  • Office of Equal Rights
  • Office of the Executive Secretariat
  • Office of External Affairs (Congressional affairs, disaster operations, intergovernmental affairs, private sector, and public affairs)
  • Resource Management and Administration
  • Office of Chief Counsel
  • Office of Policy and Programs Analysis
  • Defense Production Act Program Division


FEMA Today

According to a FEMA report, the agency responded to more disasters in 2011 than any other year in its history, which included 98 major disaster declarations, 112 fire management assistance grant declarations, and 26 emergency declarations. During the same time, FEMA gave more than $2.9 billion in federal preparedness grants to protect and strengthen the nation from all hazards, which included:

  • 1 Intercity Passenger Rail Security grant: $22.2 million
  • 10 Regional Catastrophic Preparedness grants: $14 million
  • 123 Port Security grants: $235 million
  • 21 Tribal Homeland Security grants: $10 million
  • 21 Urban Areas Security Initiative Nonprofit Security grants: $18.9 million
  • 26 Emergency Operations Center grants: 14.6 million
  • 3,554 grants to fire departments: $775.9 million
  • 31 Urban Areas Security Initiative grants: $662.6 million
  • 39 Transportation Security grants: $200 million
  • 56 State Homeland Security grants: $526.8 million
  • 58 Emergency Management Performance grants: $329 million
  • 83 Intercity Bus Security grants: $4.99 million

From Hurricane Irene, which impacted more than 35 million people along the nation’s Eastern seaboard, to the destructive tornadoes of Joplin, Missouri and the devastating flooding in North Dakota, 2011 challenged FEMA’s reach and capabilities.

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Since its inception, FEMA has served as the federal government’s leading agency when responding to moments of crisis. In total, FEMA and dedicated employees have responded to, and coordinated response and recovery operations for more than 1,800 incidents.

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