How Disasters Are Declared

A major disaster could result from a hurricane, earthquake, flood, tornado or major fire.

The event must be clearly more than state or local governments can handle alone.

The President determines what warrants supplemental federal aid - here's how it goes:

A major disaster declaration usually follows these steps:

  1. Local government responds, supplemented by neighboring communities and volunteer agencies. If overwhelmed, they turn to the state for assistance;
  2. The state responds with state resources, such as the National Guard and other state agencies;
  3. At this time, damage assessment is done by local, state, federal, and volunteer organizations determines losses and recovery needs;
  4. If warranted, a major disaster declaration is requested by the governor, based on the damage assessment, and an agreement to commit state funds and resources to the long-term recovery;
  5. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) evaluates the request and recommends action to the White House based on the disaster, the local community and the state's ability to recover;
  6. The President approves the request or FEMA informs the governor it has been denied. This decision process could take a few hours or several weeks, depending on the nature of the disaster.
  7. If there is a Federal disaster declaration, a telephone "hotline" will often be publicized to provide information about public, private, and voluntary agency programs to help disaster recovery efforts.

Additional Info

- When a disaster is declared, funding comes from the President's Disaster Relief Fund, which is managed by FEMA, and disaster aid programs of other participating federal agencies.

- A Presidential Major Disaster Declaration puts into motion long-term federal recovery programs, some of which are matched by state programs, and designed to help disaster victims, businesses and public entities.


Flooding: When a catastrophe hits resulting in a significant number of flood claims, FEMA may establish several types of temporary field offices (primarily for insurance companies, agents, and adjusters) to coordinate flood insurance claims effectively and efficiently. The Mitigation Division has also established the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Catastrophe Hotline (1-800-316-4806), which will provide up-to-date information regarding Flood Response Office location(s), Claims Coordinating Office location(s), and other pertinent information.


Think in terms of weeks and months, not hours or days, when making recovery plans.