FEMA & Robert T. Stafford Act of 1988

Disaster relief has been an issue of significant focus for the federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not created until 1978. The significance of disaster relief for the federal government is evident in the creation of the earliest piece of federal legislation in 1803. The federal government created the Congressional Act of 1803 as its earliest legislative attempt to address disaster relief. Since the enactment of this first piece of legislation, the federal government has prioritized disaster relief and management since the country has been characterized by increased incidents of natural and man-made disasters. Some of these efforts undertaken by the federal government include the enactment of Robert T. Stafford Act of 1988 and the establishment of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Reasons and Events that Lead to Creation of FEMA

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The Federal Emergency Management Act was established in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter following increased pressure by state governors. President Carter signed an executive order in this year that created this agency whose main objective is to lead the country in preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters on the premise of a nation prepared. Since inception, this agency has continued to protect and serve Americans with regards to handling and managing emergencies. Actually, the role of the agency entails coordinating the role of the federal government in preparing for, preventing, and lessening the impacts of all natural and man-made disasters or emergencies including terrorism. In addition, this agency also coordinates federal government’s role in responding to and recovering from such incidents (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2015). Since its inception, the agency has developed to an extent that it currently has more than ten regional offices throughout the country in order to enhance disaster preparedness and management.

The creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency was fueled by several reasons and incidents that were taking place in the United States with regards to disaster and emergency. Some of these major reasons and events that contributed to creation of FEMA include

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters were crucial events and factors that influenced the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979. During the period between 1960s and 1970s, the United States was hit by a series of significant natural disasters that had devastating impacts on the lives and property of American people. Some of the major natural disasters that took place during this decade include the Ash Wednesday Storm in 1962, the destructive earthquake in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1964, 1965 Hurricane Betsy, and Hurricane Camille in 1969 (Emergency Management Institute, n.d.). The federal government responded to these disasters just like it responded to previous ones through enacting ad hoc legislation for disaster relief funds. A discussion of insurance as a safeguard against future natural disasters such as floods and means to lessen constant government help in the aftermath of disasters soon emerged following the significant financial losses brought by Hurricane Betsy in Florida and Louisiana. Actually, Congressional interest towards disaster relief emerged due to the unavailability of flood protection insurance despite the increase in natural disasters across the country. These discussions prompted the development and enactment of improved legislation including Flood Insurance Act of 1968 and paved way for establishment of FEMA in the following decade.

Calls for National Focus

The second reason for the creation or establishment of Federal Emergency Management Act was the call for a national focus to disaster relief and emergency management in the aftermath of a series of major natural disasters across the United States between 1960 and 1970. As previously mentioned, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order in 1979 for the creation of this agency following increased pressure by state governors. The state governors seemingly compelled President Carter to create this agency because of increased calls for a national focus on emergency management and disaster relief. These calls emerged from the fact that emergency management during this period was characterized by a scattered trend of placement of functions relating to disaster relief or management. These functions were parallel and contributed to increased confusion and turf war during emergency response. Actually, more than 100 various federal agencies were collectively engaged in disaster relief efforts. However, these efforts were characterized by confusion as Americans complained regarding poor coordination and outcomes of emergency response initiatives. This prompted increased calls for a national and centralized emergency management framework that led to creation of FEMA.

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Accident

The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Accident in a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania was a major incident that contributed to the creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This is primarily because the accident took place at a time when discussions were ongoing regarding the need for a centralized emergency management system and framework. The incident generated additional impetus to the ongoing measures towards consolidation of emergency management and disaster response efforts (Emergency Management Institute, n.d.). This was evident following the significant media attention that the incident generated, especially on the lack of enough off-site disaster preparedness surrounding nuclear power plants. The national media attention also demonstrated the role of the federal government in this process with regards to coordinated response and emergency management. The culmination of the increased call for a national focus on emergency management and the aftermath of the Three Mile Island Disaster was the establishment of the FEMA in 1979.

Historical Importance of the Robert T. Stafford Act of 1988

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act of 1988, which is commonly known as the Stafford Act, was established to provide the legislative framework for a Presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency (Bazan, 2005). Through such declarations, an opportunity for a broad range of federal resources is created to help in responding to the specific major disaster or emergency. In essence, this Act provides the framework through which federal resources are availed to help respond and deal with emergencies in an effective manner. The structure of this legislation in relation to declaration process demonstrates the significance of federal resources in supplementing local and state resources for emergency relief and recovery.

Based on its provisions that help in availing federal resources to help in disaster response and recovery, the Stafford Act is considered as a historically important piece of federal legislation with regards to emergency response in various ways including

Centerpiece of Federal Disaster Policy

One of the ways through which the Stafford Act and related legislation for the emergency management recovery phase is historically important is its role as the centerpiece of federal policy on disaster response and recovery. Together with related legislation for emergency management recovery phase, the Stafford Act of 1988 defines the process through which federal disasters or emergencies are declared. Moreover, the legislation determines the kinds of help that the federal government provides with regards to responding to and recovering from disasters or emergencies.

Cost Sharing Arrangements

The other way through which the Stafford Act and related legislation is historically important is the establishment of cost sharing arrangements between various levels of government when dealing with regards to emergency response. During the 1980s when this piece of federal legislation was enacted, the federal government was experiencing escalating costs of its disaster relief initiatives. The escalating costs of these efforts forced the Congress to begin questioning the President’s use of emergency declarations for man-made rather than natural disasters. The Congress raised these concerns largely because of President Jimmy Carter’s use of the Disaster Relief Act to assist in management of the influx of Cuban refugees into Florida. Through the enactment of the Stafford Act, the Congress not only addressed these concerns but also provided a historical and legislative framework for determining costs sharing ant the extent with which federal resources are availed to help in disaster response and recovery. The significance of cost sharing arrangements established by this legislation is evident in the fact that the Federal Emergency Management Act utilizes the provisions of the Act to distribute federal assistance in case of federal disasters or emergencies (Moss, Schellhamer & Berman, 2009, p.2).

Establishment of Two Incident Levels

The other historical significance of the Stafford Act and related legislation for the emergency management recovery phase is the establishment of two incident levels that is used by emergency agencies and personnel to guide their preparedness and response initiatives. The establishment of these two incident levels i.e. major disasters and emergencies incorporates a clear definition of each incident. Presidential declaration and subsequent management and relief efforts are guided by each of these definitions and distinctions of incident levels. In addition to defining each incident level, the Stafford Act determines the level of financial resources that the federal government provides to response and recovery efforts. In relation to emergency, the Act states that federal assistance should not exceed $5 million whereas the federal government covers 75% of costs of replacement or repairing local and state facilities in case of a major disaster.…

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