The federal government plays a significant role in emergency management, which generally refers to “activities associated with avoiding and responding to natural and human-caused hazards” (FEMA, 1996). Emergency management in the United States is highly “decentralized and contextual in nature” (FEMA, 1996). Activities often involve multiple jurisdictions as well as a vast number of agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private sector entities. In addition, the number and type of actors involved in an incident will vary tremendously depending on the context and severity of the event. Similarly, the legal framework through which “emergency management functions and activities are authorized is also decentralized and stems from multiple authorities” (FEMA, 1996).
The emergency management framework is a guide to how the Nation responds to all types of disasters and emergencies. It is built on “scalable, flexible, and adaptable concepts identified in the National Incident Management System to align key roles and responsibilities across the Nation” (Marinsein, 1998). It describes specific authorities and best practices for managing incidents that “range from the serious but purely local to large-scale terrorist attacks or catastrophic natural disasters” (Marinsein, 1998). This Framework explains common response disciplines and processes that have been developed at all levels of government and have matured over time.
To be fully effective a local emergency management program requires several components. These components begin with “the legal authority for a program and disaster related activities” (Drabek, 1987). The nature of local emergency management laws is frequently guided by State law. State law may be “either permissive or mandatory” and it may allow “localities either to organize and conduct emergency management systems as they see fit, or the State may specify particular requirements that communities must meet” (Drabek, 1987). Without a solid basis in law, the program cannot flourish. In general terms, local laws define, with widely varying specificity and scope, who will do what in preparing for, mitigating, responding to or recovering from emergencies or disasters.
Drabek, T. 1987. The Professional Emergency Manager: Structures and Strategies for Success. Boulder: University of Colorado, Institute of Behavioral Science.
FEMA. USFA. 1996. Appendix B: Government’s Role in Emergency Management. In Executive Analysis of Fire Service Operations in Emergency Management. Emmitsburg, MD: U.S. Fire Administration.
Marinstein, J. 1998. Cross-Departmental Cooperation and the Politics of Planning and Management. Contingency Planning and Management 3.
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