Friday, October 4, 2013

Why does the government play a role in disaster response?

As Tropical Storm Karen nears the Gulf Coast, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recalled staff members who have been furloughed in this week's government shutdown.

Good disaster law helps ensure early warning, financing for shelter or repairs, and accountability for those who helped cause the disaster. But how did the government get involved in disasters in the first place?

Image courtesy scragz.

Rosemary O'Leary, David M. Van Slyke, and Soonhee Kim propose that there are three main phases in emergency management law history:

Fragmentation, 1803-1950, in which 128 statutes passed in response to natural disasters to make federal money available to state and local governments' recovery efforts. In 1803, a series of fires swept through Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In response, Congress passed legislation to help merchants recover--the first disaster law Congress passed.

Congress continued to pass ad-hoc legislation as disasters arose (New York City--1835 fires, Chicago--1871 fires, Galveston--1900 hurricane, San Francisco--1906 earthquake). The first comprehensive nationwide disaster laws were passed starting in the 1930s.

Command and Control, 1950-1979, in which the Civil Defense Act and Federal Disaster Act created a framework for disaster preparedness to address conventional and nuclear attacks.

The Cold War! An attempt to show the Soviet Union how prepared we were.

Professionalization, 1979-2000, in which programs consolidated and FEMA was formed, focusing on mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.

As the shutdown wears on and Karen nears, we'll see just how prepared FEMA is to deal with a federal budget disaster!

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