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Declared vs. Non-Declared Disasters


A disaster always begins and ends at the local level. However, sometimes disasters big or small can overwhelm local jurisdictions' ability to respond and recover effectively; therefore leaving the jurisdictions looking to state and federal entities for additional assistance. It is important to remember that no matter how impactful a disaster may be to a community, not every disaster results in a Major Federal Disaster Declaration.

The long term recovery after a disaster oftentimes places the most financial strain on local and/or state governments. A major disaster declaration puts into motion long-term federal recovery programs that are designed to help disaster survivors, businesses, and public entities. 

Disasters that are not federally declared
Without a Major Federal Disaster Declaration, there is no outside assistance for individuals. The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management will work with local partners and non-profit organizations to address recovery needs for the community. 

Disasters that are federally declared
In instances where a Major Federal Disaster Declaration is issued, additional resources open up for disaster survivors, businesses, and public entities. Once a disaster has been declared, individuals are able to apply for FEMA assistance.  

The main types of assistance under a federal declaration
There are several types of assistance available with a federal declaration, however, not all programs are activated for every disaster. Most recognized are the Individual Assistance (IA) and Public Assistance (PA), in which it is possible to meet the requirements for one and not the other, or none at all.  

Individual Assistance (IA) opens the doors for individuals and households to seek disaster assistance, which may include:
  • Individuals and Households Programs;
  • Crisis Counseling Program
  • Disaster Case Management
  • Disaster Unemployment Assistance
  • Disaster Legal Services
  • Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP)
Public Assistance (PA) is available to State, Tribal, and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities, which may include the following:
  • Debris removal
  • Emergency protective measures
  • Roads and bridges
  • Water control facilities
  • Buildings and equipment
  • Utilities
  • Parks, recreational and other facilities

Determinations for a disaster declaration

Individual Assistance:
  1.  Concentration of damage- High concentrations of damages to individuals, such as destroyed or damaged housing, may indicate a greater need for Federal assistance than widespread and scattered damages.
  2. Trauma- The degree of trauma to the community is considered, with special attention to large numbers of injuries and deaths, large scale disruptions to normal community functions and services, and emergency needs, such as extended or widespread losses of power or water. 
  3. Special populations- FEMA considers the impact of the disaster on special populations, such as the low-income, the elderly, and the unemployed.
  4. Voluntary agency assistanceThe capabilities of voluntary, faith, and community-based organizations are taken into consideration, as these entities play an important role in meeting both the emergency and recovery needs of individuals impacted by disasters.
  5. Insurance – Stafford Act assistance is supplemental in nature, and therefore the level of insurance coverage is taken into account; primarily to qualify the scope of necessary assistance.
  6.  Damaged residences – severity and number. – severity and number – When conducting joint Preliminary Damage Assessments, FEMA evaluates the total number of homes destroyed and damaged, as well as evaluates the accessibility and habitability of the dwellings and the community.
Public Assistance:
  1. Estimated cost of the assistance – FEMA evaluates the estimated cost of Federal and non-Federal public assistance against the population to give some measure of the per capita impact. FEMA uses a per capita amount as an indicator that the disaster is of such severity and magnitude that it might warrant Federal assistance, and adjusts this figure annually, based on the Consumer Price Index.
  2. Localized impacts - FEMA evaluates the impact of the disaster at the county and local government levels, as well as at the American Indian and Alaskan Native Tribal Government levels, because, at times, there are extraordinary concentrations of damages that might warrant Federal assistance even if the statewide per capita is not met. This is particularly true where critical facilities (such as major roadways, bridges, public buildings, etc.) are affected or where localized per capita impacts are extremely high. For example, localized damages may be in the tens or even hundreds of dollars per capita, even though the overall per capita impact is low.
  3. Insurance coverage in force – FEMA considers the amount of insurance coverage that is in force or should have been in force as required by law and regulation at the time of the disaster and reduces the amount of anticipated assistance by that amount.
  4. Hazard Mitigation – To recognize and encourage mitigation, FEMA considers the extent to which mitigation measures contributed to the reduction of disaster damages. This could be especially significant in those disasters where, because of mitigation, the estimated public assistance damages fell below the per capita indicator.
  5. Recent multiple disasters – FEMA also considers the disaster history within the last twelve-month period to better evaluate the overall impact. FEMA considers declarations under the Stafford Act as well as declarations by the Governor or Chief Tribal Executive and to the extent they have expended their own funds.
  6. Other federal agency assistance programs – FEMA also considers programs of other Federal agencies because at times their assistance programs more appropriately meet the needs created by the disaster.




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