Lesson 2: Authority and Responsibility

Lesson Overview

The successful management of a major incident or disaster is dependent upon a coordinated effort with all the resources of the local government, the state government and the federal government. This lesson describes how each level of government contributes to a unified effort.

Upon completion of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Explain the roles of local, state, and federal government in emergency management.
  • Define the disaster assistance programs authorized by the Stafford Act.
  • Describe the relationship between the National Incident Management System and the National Response Framework.
If you are a representative from a federally recognized tribe, some of this information may not apply because of your status as a sovereign government. Please contact your FEMA Regional Office for information about planning requirements, disaster funding, and grant application procedures for tribal governments.
Overview of Emergency Management Roles

Each level of government has a specific role to play in emergency management.

Local/Tribal Government

All disasters are local. The citizens in the area where the event occurs, as well as their local or tribal governments and voluntary agencies, are the first to have to cope with the damage.

It is the responsibility of local and tribal government to manage an incident from beginning to end—through prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery. The ability to accomplish these tasks is largely dependent upon the local and tribal government seeking the partnerships and participants necessary to accomplish their goals.

When a local jurisdiction does not have the resources it needs to respond to a disaster, it turns to mutual aid and the state government for assistance. When a tribal government does not have the resources it needs to respond to a disaster, it may turn to mutual aid and the state government for assistance, or as a sovereign entity, exercise its ability to go directly to federal agencies for assistance.

State/Tribal Government

State/Tribal governments provide support and additional resources for local governments and serve as agents for the local jurisdictions if federal disaster assistance is needed. Local governments cannot directly access federal programs; instead, the states/tribes work with FEMA to access federal programs and support.

The role of state/tribal government in many ways runs parallel to that of local government. The state/tribal government will participate in the identification of risks and vulnerability, looking at the state/tribe as a whole. State/Tribal government will determine public policy and create its own partnerships with voluntary agencies and the business community.
Federal Government

When a disaster strikes and is so severe that the local governments and the state governments together cannot provide the needed resources, then the federal government becomes the source for those resources.

The federal government provides financial and other assistance to states, local governments, and tribal communities in support of response, recovery, and mitigation efforts. The federal role in emergency management also provides for published guidance, training, and education.

The Stafford Act

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) authorizes the president to issue a major disaster declaration to provide federal aid to states overwhelmed by disasters. The Act also defines FEMA’s authority to coordinate disaster and emergency assistance to individuals, households, state and local governments, tribes, businesses, and certain nonprofit organizations.

Overall, the Stafford Act:

  • Establishes the Presidential Disaster Declaration process
  • Defines the relationship among federal, state, local, tribal, and voluntary agencies for disaster efforts
  • Authorizes various types of federal assistance from FEMA, depending on the event
  • Defines the cost-sharing arrangements between federal, state, local, and tribal governments
Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013

The Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013 (SRIA) amends the Stafford Act to authorize Tribal governments to request a declaration of an emergency or major disaster. Previously Tribal governments were treated as local governments and thus not permitted to directly request disaster declarations from the Federal government. The SRIA also amends the Stafford Act to include federally recognized Indian Tribal governments in numerous references to state and local governments within the Stafford Act.

For additional information on the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, as amended (including SRIA updates), go to https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1394805512529-69dda27af3e128a1406387d288fd162c/SRIA+Overview+Fact+Sheet+and+Status+Updated+03042014_508.pdf.

Disaster Assistance Programs
The Stafford Act provides for three major disaster assistance programs.
Public Assistance

The Public Assistance (PA) program provides assistance to tribal, state, and local governments, and to certain private nonprofit organizations. To be eligible, the work must be disaster related, located in the designated declaration area, be the responsibility of the applicant, and not be funded by insurance or another federal agency.

The PA request must come from the local government through state government. Funding flows from federal to state to local. A tribal government may go through the state, or directly to FEMA. The federal government provides briefings at times of disaster and training to local, tribal, and state governments for the declaration process, the subsequent requests for PA, as well as response and recovery activity.

Types of eligible work are listed in the table below.

Work Categories Work Examples
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)

The Stafford Act authorizes funding for various hazard mitigation projects in the community, including mitigation measures designed to meet the need for government services and infrastructure in areas affected by the disaster.

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is the primary post-disaster hazard mitigation program. It provides grants to state, local, and tribal governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The HMGP is intended to reduce loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable hazard mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster.

In order for the state and its local jurisdictions or a tribal government to be eligible for HMGP funds, the state, tribal, and local governments must have a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan, and the projects must be consistent with the plans.

Examples of possible projects include:

  • Acquisition of property in high hazard areas
  • Protection of infrastructure
  • Seismic rehabilitation
Individual Assistance

Individual Assistance (IA) is available to individuals through the Federal Small Business Administration (SBA) and other federal agencies. While the administrative responsibility for IA does not normally rest with a public works professional, some knowledge is desirable.

Individual assistance opportunities include:
  • Low-interest loans
  • Individual and Family Grant (IFG) program
  • Veterans benefits
  • Temporary housing assistance
  • Tax refunds
  • Income tax assistance
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Free legal counseling
  • Crisis counseling
The Role of Local and Tribal Government in Prevention, Protection, and Mitigation

To effectively prevent an incident from occurring, prepare for one that can’t be prevented, or mitigate the effect on the community, it is important for public works to establish partnerships with other local or tribal agencies, state and federal agencies, voluntary organizations, community groups, local businesses, and the media. It is also important to gain support and participation from community leaders, elected officials, and others such as the medical community and utility groups.

The relationships established during planning efforts will enable a more effective response and recovery when an emergency event occurs. Agencies must be able to work seamlessly with each other. One way to help ensure this seamlessness is by establishing mutual aid agreements with other communities, voluntary agencies, the private sector, and others.

Planning for an event at the local or tribal level includes some basic elements to assure a comprehensive and integrated approach.

Select the links provided to learn more about mitigation activities, mutual aid agreements, and the basic elements of planning.


Voices of Experience: Using Assessment Information to Set Priorities
These public works professionals were asked to discuss the ways in which priorities are established and/or modified based on the results of risk, vulnerability, and damage assessments.
Gary Eaton
At every, about 24 hours, we go back through and we work with our operations planning and logistics groups, and they look at that 24 hours, and they continually are assessing that prioritization, so if we’re working on something and we get new information in that, say a critical component of that facility is not available or we cannot find it and we can’t get that facility up, then you may have to change your prioritization and move resources. So you’re really always looking at that, about every 24 hours, as you’re moving through the issue.
Christine Walsh

In order to establish priorities we looked at our critical infrastructure and our key resources, so for example, main arterials going through the city, specific public facilities and grounds that we thought were key critical infrastructure. We looked at our traffic patterns; we also looked at environmental management – our city is divided by a river – and what happens if we have a flood? Then you need to look at, as well, your water, wastewater, utilities, transit systems – those are all critical infrastructure or key resources that every city depends on.

Public works is based on the protection of life. So each individual community, no matter how small, has to look at their critical infrastructure and the key resources that they have to be able to do the risk, vulnerability, and damage assessments.

Gregg Varner
As a public works person, or as anybody working in emergency management, knowing what your community is subject to get hit with, whether it’s hurricanes, earthquakes, whatever – you’ve got to know that kind of stuff so you can plan for it. And then once you know that, you take a look at your community, and all communities are different – everything is community-specific – when you take a look at those things, then you want to look at critical facilities. You want to especially know where things like hospitals and nursing homes are because they are a priority. They’re the kinds of places that public safety wants to get to, so part of your job as a public works professional, for example in a hurricane, is to get those streets cleared so public safety can get to hospitals, nursing homes, and things like that. And those are the kind of priorities that you identify ahead of time, and then they can change based on the nature of the event.
The Role of the State Government in Prevention, Protection, and Mitigation

State government will perform planning and prevention activity, and coordinate the same with local and sometimes tribal agencies. In all emergency management activity, state government will assist local and sometimes tribal governments in planning, preparation, training, and exercises.

State communication plans include all local governments and provide assistance during incidents or disasters. They may also include tribal governments. Continuity of resources is no less important at the state level than for local or tribal government. State officials should make the additional backup contacts available to local or tribal officials along with contact information. It is also important that this information remain current.

State government will participate with the public information process, having its own Public Information Officers (PIOs). Much of the public health and public safety issues for local and tribal government have a state component as well.

The Role of the State Government in Response and Recovery

Response and recovery efforts will proceed more smoothly through effective coordination among various levels of governments. In addition, most state governments have resources that may be made available to assist with response and recovery at the local level. State resources will be made available and may be expanded through interstate agreements called Emergency Management Assistance Compacts (EMACs). If state and local or tribal resources are insufficient, the Governor or Indian Tribal Government Chief Executive can request federal disaster assistance.

Because most major roadways belong to the state highway system, evacuations require close coordination between local, tribal, and state officials. Local or tribal public works agencies may be called upon to assist in evacuations, through activities such as dispatching barricades and signs.

After-action review of any large incident should include state, tribal, and local officials working together, including public works representation. Many lessons learned include issues that will either affect both levels of government or issues that can be improved only through cohesive, coordinated efforts.

Select the links provided to learn more about resources available from the State and Federal governments.
The Role of the Federal Government in Prevention, Protection, and Mitigation

Low-cost or no-cost training opportunities are available to federal, state, local, and tribal governmental officials though the FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI), the federal government’s primary emergency management training facility. Some training is also available to voluntary agencies and the private sector. EMI training focuses on an integrated approach to emergency management and the five mission areas and core capabilitites of the National Preparedness Goal.

FEMA also produces many publications that are made available to state, local, and tribal governments, such as how-to guides and best practices for mitigation. In addition, FEMA maintains a website that educates citizens, business owners, and children about preparedness measures.

Select this link to access FEMA EMI’s training website.

Select this link to access FEMA’s readiness website.
The Role of the Federal Government in Response and Recovery
The four basic actions performed by the federal government in the response period are to:
  • Acquire and maintain current information on the details of the incident
  • Allocate resources based on need, availability, and capability
  • Coordinate all federal resources in response actions
  • Demobilize or return resources to pre-incident status
Following the response period, which primarily focuses on immediate life-saving activity, federal resources assist local agencies, individuals, and the business community with the goal of returning to self-sufficiency.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS)

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity—in order to reduce loss of life, property and harm to the environment.

The purpose of the NIMS is to provide a common approach for managing incidents. The concepts provide for a flexible but standardized set of incident management practices with emphasis on common principles, a consistent approach to operational structures and supporting mechanisms, and an integrated approach to resource management.

Incidents typically begin and end locally, and they are managed daily at the lowest possible geographical, organizational, and jurisdictional level. There are other instances where success depends on the involvement of multiple jurisdictions, levels of government, functional agencies, and/or emergency-responder disciplines. These instances necessitate effective and efficient coordination across this broad spectrum of organizations and activities. By using NIMS, communities are part of a comprehensive national approach that improves the effectiveness of emergency management and response personnel across the full spectrum of potential threats and hazards (including natural hazards, terrorist activities, and other human-caused disasters) regardless of size or complexity.

Select this link to access a copy of the complete NIMS document (3 MB).
The National Response Framework

The National Response Framework (NRF) is a guide to how the Nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies. The NRF describes specific authorities and best practices for managing incidents that range from the serious but purely local to large-scale terrorist attacks or catastrophic natural disasters.

This Framework is always in effect, and elements can be implemented at any time. It is built on scalable, flexible, and adaptable concepts identified in the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The structures, roles, and responsibilities described in the NRF can be partially or fully implemented in the context of a threat or hazard, in anticipation of a significant event, or in response to an incident. Selective implementation of NRF structures and procedures allows for a scaled response, delivery of the specific resources and capabilities, and a level of coordination appropriate to each incident.

Select this link to access a copy of the National Response Framework (2 MB).

The Relationship between the NIMS and NRF

The NIMS and NRF are companion documents and are designed to improve the Nation’s incident management and response capabilities. While NIMS provides the template for the management of incidents regardless of size, scope or cause, the NRF provides the structure and mechanisms for national level policy of incident response.

Together, the NIMS and the NRF integrate the capabilities and resources of various governmental jurisdictions, incident management and emergency response disciplines, non-governmental organizations, and the private-sector into a cohesive, coordinated, and seamless national framework for domestic incident response.

Lesson Summary

In this lesson, you learned how each level of government works with the others during all phases of emergency management, within the structure provided in the NIMS and NRF.

As you’ve learned, the opportunity for successful emergency management occurs when a unified effort exists. All stakeholders must be invited into the process, and individual roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined.

The local government maintains control of all assets used in the response and recovery efforts, regardless of the source of those assets. Local governments must plan and prepare for this role with the support of the state and federal governments.