FEMA's role before a disaster

About the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)   

FEMA is responsible for coordinating the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or human-made, including acts of terror. FEMA sits inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). FEMA's role typically involves: 

  • procuring and distributing supplies, 

  • providing funding and program support, 

  • managing emergency resources, and 

  • working closely with State and local officials to prepare for and respond to disasters.   

How FEMA works: organization and structure     

President Carter signed Executive Order 12127, effective April 1, 1979, establishing FEMA. The agency's authorities are defined and governed by the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act). The Stafford Act establishes the current framework for disaster response and recovery in the U.S. Read more about the Stafford Act.  

FEMA has regional offices that cover multiple states. Each regional office has a Regional Administrator appointed by FEMA headquarters. California is in Region 9 with Arizona, Nevada, Hawai'i, and the Pacific territories of Guam, Marshall Islands, and American Samoa.   

FEMA's pre-disaster role    

Much of the pre-disaster work of planning and mitigating risk happens locally following the rules set forward by the National FEMA Office. The National FEMA Office provides guidance and frameworks for how emergency management should work. Additionally, there are two significant types of activities that FEMA participates in before a disaster. They include mitigation planning and preparedness education (read more about the phases in the disaster life cycle here).    


Mitigation is the process used by States, Tribes, and local governments to identify possible hazards, levels of exposure to those hazards, local vulnerabilities, and actions to reduce risk. FEMA offers guidance and funding to support mitigation as well as is the final approver of Mitigation Plans. Read more about Creating a Hazard Mitigation Plan.  

Technical assistance   

FEMA gives guidance and training on creating a culture of preparedness in communities across the country. The idea behind preparedness is that when the disaster strikes, community members already know what to do. The FEMA Community Planning and Capacity Building Team coordinates assistance among Federal and non-Federal partners to help local governments and Tribes prepare for disasters. The CPCB RSF works with partners to:   

  • communicate and coordinate the availability of guidance materials, tools, and training for developing local and Tribal pre-disaster recovery and resilience plans, and   

  • build a network of agencies and organizations prepared to aid Tribes and local governments with planning when disaster strikes.    


FEMA's sister agency, the Flood Insurance Management Agency (FIMA), administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP provides communities prone to flood risk with subsidized flood insurance policies. Read more about Mitigating and Preparing for Floods.

Building science guidance and design and construction standards    

The FEMA Building Science Branch studies natural hazards and guides engineering and mitigation standards to mitigate risk. This information is for partners engaged in engineering, code compliance, enforcement, and design. This information supports partners in post-event recovery, particularly during the rebuilding phase. For example, Building Science Branch activities include deploying Mitigation Assessment Teams to conduct post-disaster engineering investigations for hazard events.   

The Building Science Branch is also one of four agencies that make up the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). With a focus on earthquake, wind, flood, and other natural and human-made hazards, NEHRP develops publications, guidance materials, tools, training, technical bulletins, and recovery advisories that incorporate the most up-to-date building codes, flood damage-resistant requirements, seismic design guidelines, and wind design requirements for new and existing buildings.