Response to a disaster by the local government

Integrated Interagency Disaster System

Disasters are unexpected turn of events that cause a lot of damage whenever they strike and they can either be natural or artificial. Therefore, it demands that states and the relevant institutions should develop strategies for disaster prevention and management. That helps in handling such situations and preventing them from causing extensive and irreversible damage. In that case, the liaison of various levels of government in the management of disaster should be encouraged as disasters strike without notice and in any location. The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to identify the type of system that is required to be put in place to help deal with disaster in all the existing levels of government which could include local, state and the federal level. Some of the topics that will be addressed in this paper comprise a response to a disaster by the local government, state government’s response to a disaster, and the federal government’s response to a disaster. Another crucial topic that will need to be addressed is the consequences of the lack of interagency cooperation on comprehensive emergency management as it will shed light on the need concerning the same.

Local Government Response to a Disaster

The government as a whole structure does not possess all the capability to respond to every disaster that strikes and therefore necessitates its division to several levels and the need for support from various bodies. In this case, the local government plays a crucial role in handling disasters that occur in towns, cities, counties, and districts before attracting the attention of other levels of government. For starters, the local government encompasses the leadership ofmayors and councilors as well as other governing bodies that are elected directly by the people. The local government is normally granted power by the state and therefore acts on its behalf on various capacities. Concerning disaster management, this level of government has every information regarding the community’s infrastructure, social, economic, and environmental needs. That means that it is aware of where to begin whenever disaster strikes and knows which areas require more attention than others.

Local government’s responsibility during the disaster response

            According to the Queensland Government (2019), the local government has the capability to respond to a disaster as it is provided with the necessary resources and equipment to address such issues. Additionally, it is within its jurisdiction to approve a local disaster management plan to deal with disaster whenever it strikes hence reaching out to other levels of administration as the last option. Information concerning local disaster is supposed to be relayed to the relevant entities such as the District Disaster Coordinator which is a responsibility of the local government. That is to ensure that the right measures and interventions are applied without unnecessary setbacks considering that disasters are always a matter of emergency. For a reliable response to a disaster, the local government is expected to develop disaster management groups that remain on standby whose role is to;

  1. Help the local government prepare a local management plan,
  2. Evaluate and improve effective disaster management practices,
  3. Sensitize the community on how to respond to a disaster,
  4. Set aside and manage disaster resources as well as manage local disaster operation,
  5. Make sure that the management of local disaster is integrated with the state disaster management.

According to Mener(2007), disaster response differs in various states mostly at the local government level which is the first to respond depending on the location. The way the local government of the United States responds to disaster is different from how Israel responds to the same. For Israel, it appears to be more organized mostly regarding the coordination between the ambulance service providers and the military as well as healthcare providers. That makes it a good example means of a well-prepared government that has a reliable disaster management group in place. That is because local resources such as ambulances become dispatched promptly to respond to any disaster that may strike.

The local government is entitled to support by NGOs and the community as well as enter into agreements with interagency mutual aid. According to FEMA (2008), some disasters are overwhelming for the local government and therefore require the intervention of other bodies and volunteers. Some of the most common organizations that come to the aid of the local governments to respond to a disaster are either from the public-sector agencies, private sector, and NGOs. In most instances, NGOs such as the World Vision are usually in the frontline to offer support whenever disaster strikes. A good example is during the earthquake in Nepal which resulted in the deaths of 8,800 people and destruction of more than 900,000 buildings destroyed (Huber, 2015).   Such a disaster is beyond the local government and therefore attracts support from various sources.

State government’s response to a disaster

The state government is the next go-to level of government when the local authority runs out of resources to respond to a disaster. In that case, it serves as a go-between for the local authorities whenever federal disaster intervention is required. That is because the local government cannot access the federal government programs directly. The state government, therefore, responds to a disaster by;

  1. Monitoring the situation and assessing the capability of the local government in terms of response efforts and the rate at which assistance is requested,
  2. Initiating the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to bring together available state support,
  3. Establishing if the situation is beyond the intervention of the state and therefore prepare to seek the assistance of the federal government,
  4. Declaring a state of emergency which actuates the state disaster preparedness plan, provides resources for the use of state intervention and begin the process to request federal intervention,
  5. Activates the request for federal assistance which could be comprised of a request for a declaration of emergency.

Depending on the extent of a disaster, the state government can seek support from interagency mutual aid (EMAC), state assets (National Guard), and volunteer organizations. Theseusually factor into the state response by allowing states to offer assistance to one another during a disaster. According to Lindsay (2012), before the intervention or support of private organizations and volunteers as well as EMAC, a content inquiry which comprises news accounts, government documents and information gathered from various institutions become considered. That is to help establish the severity of the situation and if their support is needed to deal with a specific disaster. A relatable scenario is during Hurricane Katrina and Rita whereby EMAC was in the frontline to offer support after assessing the situation and concluding that it was obvious it required their support (Lindsay, 2012).

The Stafford Act (§401) applies only when the federal government declares an emergency but before that, the Governor is requiredto request a declaration (Lindsay, 2012). Either way, there is a procedure that needs to be followed to the latter which involves reaching out to the relevant Regional Administrator to ensure speedy approval and processing. That request should be presented within five days after the need for assistance becomes obvious but not past thirty days after the event of a disaster to gain priority (Lindsay, 2012). In case an extension for the request is required, the Governor is expected to provide a written request for the delay through the Assistant Administrator for the Disaster Assistance Directorate.

Federal government’s response to a disaster

The federal government is the last go-to level of government that plays a crucial role in addressing disasters or in general emergency management (Lindsay, 2012). In that case, it deals with activities that facilitate the prevention and response to natural and artificial disasters. The authority that this level has involves various agencies, nongovernmental institutions, and entities in the private sector. That means that it can gather all the necessary support within the time of need due to the association with such bodies that are always willing to help. Either way, it depends on the nature and severity of a disaster meaning that they do not engage in all situations. The fact that the federal government is vast means that the processes towards giving support during a disaster are involving as its functions and activities demand a legal framework as its authority is not centralized and branches from various establishments.

            The federal government is responsible for declaring an emergency as defined by the Stafford Act (§401) whereby efforts and available resources should be released to state and local governments to help alleviate damage, loss, and hardship owing to a disaster (Lindsay, 2012). Whenever the local government approaches the state government for assistance from the federal government, it is within its jurisdiction to assess the situation through the state representatives and develop a report. In that case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) makes a recommendation to the president to declare an emergency hence activate the necessary support. Under the Stafford Act, the major assistance that the federal government offers through FEMA comprises the Public Assistant (PA), Grant Program, Individual Assistance (IA) program and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) (Lindsay, 2012). Under this act as well, the president can declare an emergency that assists in only one form such as IA depending on the severity of a disaster.

According to Lindsay (2012), emergency declarations by the federal government facilitate activities that can help state and local governments to deliver on their services which are meant to reduce future damages in case of a disaster. In some instances, an emergency can be declared even before a disaster strikes to save lives and decrease the impact of such occurrences. That would apply in a case scenario where a disaster such as a hurricane is foreseen and therefore the necessary resources are provided to smoothen the evacuation process. After a declaration of emergency is approved, the major assistance that is offered includes food and medicine, removal of wreckages, and technical advisory to local and state governments. On the one hand though, a declaration of emergency does not cover the repairs and replacement of infrastructure or provide aid to individuals and families. 

Consequences of Lack of Interagency Cooperation on Comprehensive Emergency Management

The intervention of a disaster requires the support of every available and relevant institution as well as the liaison of various agencies to help achieve emergency management successfully. The major phases of disaster management include mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. That means that is a single phase lacks the necessary coordination among agencies, the whole process would become jeopardized. According to Salmon, Stanton, Jenkins, and Walker (2011), coordination between various agencies such as the military and civil agencies is essential in addressing a disaster. On the one hand, though, coordinating various agencies is a difficult task as each agency is under different authorities hence making the process of decision-making long and procedural. That means that it is possible for the agencies to exist but fail to deliver on their purposes due to a lack of proper coordination.

Some of the consequences of lack of interagency cooperation in emergency management in local, state and federal government levels include(DeTella, 2016);

  1. A lack of strategic objectives which requires the effective and efficient use of planning, information, intelligence, and resources as well as economic instruments. That means that when agencies fail to share information promptly, it leads to massive destruction by a disaster that could have been put under control before spreading to other locations.
  2. Opportunities for disaster intervention do not get identified due to a lack of understanding between agencies hence developing unnecessary conflicts and posing a risk to various relationships in a country.
  3. A lack of cooperation causes misuse of resources because various agencies can allocate support to a single disaster while others remain unattended. By not being in good terms, it means that operations are not conducted effectively and efficiently hence failing to achieve the set objectives.
  4. With a lack of cooperation by relevant agencies, it becomes difficult to identify potential and committed stakeholders hence affecting the level of available resources to deal with a disaster.

Conclusion

Disasters occur in any location and at any time without notice meaning that the relevant institutions should be prepared to deal with them to help save lives and property. The management of disaster requires the attention of all the levels of government which include the local, state, and federal government. Each of these levels plays a crucial role in ensuring that people and their properties are secured whenever disaster strikes. Concerning the local government, it ensures that towns, cities, counties, and districts are shielded from further damage after a disaster. Additionally, it seeks the necessary support especially from the state government to ensure that the situation is addressed promptly. That state government acts as a go-between the local and federal government hence offering it a way through for assistance.

The process of achieving emergency response to a disaster though is not without challenges especially when it comes to coordinating agencies. That is because they all act under different authorities which might not agree on some issues. Each state though is responsible for intervening in times of a disaster and should therefore not rely heavily on external support. That means that every government should have a plan to deal with disaster and within that effort attract potential aid from various organizations.

References

DeTella, G. (2016, October 12). Emerging Threats: The importance of Interagency Coordination . Retrieved from Shawneepreparednesscoalition.: http://www.shawneepreparednesscoalition.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Emerging-Threats.pdf

FEMA. (2008, January). National Response Framework. Retrieved from Fema.gov: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-core.pdf

Huber, C. (2015, December 15). Worst natural disasters in 2015. Retrieved from World Vision: https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-response-news-stories/worst-natural-disasters-2015

Lindsay, B.R.  (2012, Nov 30).  Federal emergency management: A brief introduction.  Congressional Research Service 7-5700.  Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42845.pdf

Mener, A. S.  (2007, May 10).  Disaster response in the United States of America: An analysis of the bureaucratic and political history of a failing system.  CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania.  Retrieved from https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1068&context=curej

Queensland Government. (2019, October 1). Role of local government in a disaster. Retrieved from Queensland Government: https://www.qld.gov.au/emergency/local-gov/role

Salmon, P., Stanton, N., Jenkins, D., & Walker, G. (2011). Coordination during multi‐agency emergency response: issues and solutions. Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal.

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