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Federal Emergency Management Agency

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Introduction

Disaster preparedness comprises of measures that are aimed at enhancing the safety of life in the occurrence of disaster that includes protective actions during the earthquake, and spill of hazardous materials (NRC, 2006). In addition to this preparedness to disasters, it also includes actions specified to enhance the capacity to undertake emergency actions in an effort to protect property and mitigate the damage and disaster due to disruption. Disaster preparedness also includes the ability to engage in post-disaster restoration and activities for early recovery (Haddow and Bullock, 2006). For organizations, the mutual aid and personal sharing occurs when local resources are inadequate to meet the disaster. (McEntire, p. 34-35)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA was initiated by the congressional act of 1803, and this act is regarded as the first piece of disaster legislation that provided assistance to the damage due to devastating fire in New Hampshire town.  More than 100 adhoc legislation were passed to assist in disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters in the century that followed. The federal approach of assistance to problems became popular by 1930, and Reconstruction Finance Corporation was authorized to provide disaster loans that help in the repair and reconstruction of public facilities after earthquakes and other disasters. The US Army Corps Engineers were provided with a greater authority to implement flood control projects with Flood Control Act; however, this piecemeal approach to the disaster assistance was problematic and legislation was required for decent cooperation between federal agencies, and the President was authorized to coordinate these activities.  Massive disasters of 1960’s and 1970’s necessitated main federal response and recovery operations from the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration that was established within the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even though two legislation were enacted successively to mitigate risks, the response activities associated with emergency and disasters was fragmented and hazards associated with nuclear power plants and transportation of hazardous substances was added as natural disasters. 

There was an involvement of more than hundred federal agencies in disasters, hazards and emergencies in some or the other way, and various policies and programs existed in the state and the local levels parallel to activities of federal agencies. This resulted in the more complexity in the disaster relief efforts of federal agencies and the National Governer’s Association decreased the number of agencies with which local and state governments were forced to work.  The executive order 12127 of President Jimmy Carter in 1979 has enabled the merger of many of separate responsibilities of disasters into Federal Management Emergency Agency. The civil defense responsibilities were also alienated to the FEMA from the Defense Department's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. The first director of FEMA was John Macy and Macy stressed on similarities between the preparedness to natural hazards and civil defense activities.  An integrated emergency management system was developed by FEMA with an all-hazards approach which includes direction, control, as well as the warning systems that are common to full range emergencies from small isolated events to ultimate emergencies. 

Complexities in emergency management were evident when the new agency encountered many unusual challenges in its first few years.  These emergencies were contamination of canals, refugee crisis, accidents in nuclear power plants, hurricanes and earth quakes with which FEMA was focused into the lime light. James L. Witt was nominated as the new director in 1993 by President Clinton and he was the first director of the agency with experience as a state emergency manager.  Witt initiated sweeping reforms that include streamlining the disaster relief and recovery operations, a new emphasis on the disaster preparedness and mitigation, and employees of the agency were made to focus on customer service.  At this time, Cold War ended that helped Witt to divert more of the FEMA’s limited resources from the civil defense to mitigate the disaster risk, disaster relief and recovery programs.  Under the leadership of Joe M. Allbaugh, who was appointed by George Bush in 2001, it was a testing time to the agency as the terrorist attacks in September 11 made the agency focus on issues, such as national preparedness, as well as the homeland security. 

Activities of the agency were coordinated with the newly instituted Office of the Homeland security and the office of the FEMA, which was responsible for the national preparedness, was given the responsibility that helps to ensure that the first responders of the nation are well-trained and equipped with weapons of mass destruction. 

FEMA was provided with billions of dollars to help communities to face the threat of terrorism; however, FEMA was active in directing its all-hazards approach more towards homeland security issues than disasters.  In March 2003, FEMA joined the Department of Homeland Security along with 20 other federal agencies. Headed by Tom Ridge, the agency brought a coordinated approach in dealing with the national security from emergencies and disasters that include both manmade and natural ones.  With signing of Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act by President George Bush in 2006, there was the reorganization of FEMA that provided a substantial new authority to rectify defects. (FEMA, 2010).

Historical Importance of the Robert T. Stafford Act of 1988 and Related Legislation for the Emergency Management Recovery Phase

Federal disaster policy in the United States is shaped by the conflict between people who are for the intervention of the federation in the disaster, and those who consider that the responsibility for responding to this disaster lies within the local and state governments, as well as charity. It resulted in the complex system of regulations and governmental agencies created for such kind of management are a combination of federal agencies with independent policies, cultures, constituencies and objectives. A multiple layers of regulations and laws are meant that a disaster may simultaneously be declared a main disaster and an incident of the national significance. Moreover, the response to this disaster ought to be in accordance with regulations, laws, that created confusion as to which regulations apply in the crisis.

Robert T. Stafford Act was enacted in 1988 and was significantly amended in 2000, and Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act is the center piece of the disaster policy (Bea, 2005). It defines how federal disasters are declared and establishes the type of the assistance that must be provided by the federal government and determines a cost sharing arrangement between federal, state and local governments. The FEMA follows provisions of the act and distributes much of the assistance provided by the act. In the 1980’s there was an escalation of costs of efforts for the federal disaster relief, and the congress questioned the president’s use of disaster declarations for non-natural disasters and in an effort to address these concerns the Stanford act was passed. As per this act, there is a limitation for the main disaster to any calamity or regardless of cause, any fire, flood or explosion. (42 U.S.C. § 5122 (2), In addition to defining terms under which the president may authorize the use of federal funds to assist states and localities in need the Stanford act.

  1. established a 75 percent federal and 25 percent local cost sharing plan
  2. provided  public assistance for the emergency work repair and restoration and removal of the debris
  3. emphasis on mitigation that includes the establishment of mitigation grants.

The Stanford act establishes two incident levels that include disasters and emergencies and as per this act emergencies are defined as “any occasion or incident for which with the determination of the president local assistance is needed to supplement the efforts of state and local agencies”. This includes dissemination warnings, providing advisory and technical assistance to state and local governments, removal of debris, providing assistance in the distribution of medicine and other supplies. The total assistance to disaster relief should not exceed five million dollars and at the discretion of the determination of the president the further assistance can be granted. (42 U.S.C. 5193) The president can also declare a main disaster if the damage is of sufficient severity and magnitude that warrants a main disaster assistance. This declaration brings to bear the full resources, as well as the authority of the authority of the president as per the act to utilize full resources of the US Department of Defense, providing rescue teams and also providing shelter, emergency medical care and temporary facilities. Upon the declaration of an emergency or a main disaster up to 28,800 US dollars in assistance can be provided to eligible households in the affected area. The main disaster declaration allows the government to provide the long-term economic injury disaster loans and recovery assistance to small businesses. (42 U.S.C. 5170 et seq.)

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