Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Health & Welfare

The United States of Emergency

How is a State of Emergency Declared?

You’ve certainly heard about how the government declares “States of Emergency,” but have probably wondered how exactly they go about it. In my book, a “state of emergency” would be seeing a squirrel during my walk. Maybe that’s more a “state of extreme excitement.”

With 59 FEMA major disaster declarations in 2009 and 12 already declared in 2010 (three, related to wild winter storms, have already been made in March), it is timely to look at how individual states declare emergencies and the role FEMA plays in reviewing and/or approving the allocation of federal funds.

How state and federal governments deal with emergencies is similar to how you as a building owner or property manager would handle any emergency. First, you would assess the situation, while ensuring that individual safety remains the primary concern. Then, you would look at the amount of damage that has been suffered and judge the replacement and rebuilding costs in terms of money and labor. If my doghouse was ever damaged in a disaster, I would be inconsolable, and would value the loss as “priceless.”

Governors who are faced with large disasters go through several steps before requesting federal disaster assistance: The first step that FEMA takes is called a Preliminary Damage Assessment.” My owners would do these if they knew that I chewed on the coffee table. I don’t want to say anything more.

  • Personnel from FEMA and the affected state’s emergency management agency work together with local officials to survey the overall disaster and write an assessment.
  • This assessment helps the governor support a declaration request and provides an overview at response effort costs including labor and related overtime. It also gives a thorough review of the state of emergency services capacity and the damage to citizens so the governor can show that the damage exceeds state and local resource allocations.
  • After the formal request is submitted to the regional FEMA office, here are some issues that FEMA considers to determine if federal assistance is warranted:
    • The amount and type of damage
    • How many homes are damaged? 10 homes or 1,000? What about business? Was a major office park or manufacturing site affected which would restrict the incomes of a large portion of the given population? (Convert all of the following to questions so they stand alone as sub-points under the larger headings.)
      • Was the Infrastructure affected?
      • Can the public in the area still use the roadways or other transportation?
      • Are basic services such as water and electricity working or will be restored quickly?
      • What about the pooches? Luckily, we are a hardy species and can deal with nearly any emergency.
      • What are the public health considerations?
      • Are the local hospitals or other local care centers affected?
      • What are the impacts to essential government services and functions?
        • Is the Federal government better equipped to do the job?
        • Does the overall scale of the disaster require government assistance?
  • How concentrated or disperse is the emergency? FEMA officials will work with State agencies to assess if there are enough State personnel available to manage the disaster.
  • What is the average Insurance coverage for homeowners and public facilities in the area?If the area is one that lacks proper insurance coverage, then losses will be more severe and rebuilding efforts will be lengthier.
  • Do state and local resource commitments from previous disasters stretch existing resources?
  • FEMA submits their findings to the President’s Office.
  • The President decides if a “Presidential Disaster Declaration” should be made. If this declaration is made, FEMA’s share of disaster expenses will cover at least 75% of the total costs.

This methodical approach to reviewing disasters is a good model for any building manager or property owner. We encourage you to engage tenants as valuable partners in safety and disaster planning. For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore. Our e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. Visit for more information and remember to BE SAFE.


RJ the Fire Dog is the mascot for Allied Universal, the premiere provider for e-based fire life safety training for residents and workers in high-rise buildings. His young son, JR, sometimes takes over writing his posts. RJ also maintains an active Twitter account, which he posts to when he isn’t working in the firehouse. The Allied Universal Fire Life Safety Training System helps commercial buildings with compliance to fire life safety codes. Our interactive, building-specific e-learning training system motivates and rewards tenants instantly! It’s a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50%