Volunteers from the Mennonite Disaster Service help to rebuild housing damaged by hurricanes in Florida.

Photo courtesy Ed Edahl / FEMA

Disaster Relief

In the aftermath of a disaster, people are left with damaged or destroyed homes, no place to work, no transportation, and destroyed or lost property. Many families must also deal with the greatest tragedy of all -- injured, missing or dead loved ones. FEMA can provide assistance in all of these areas, often in coordination with the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations.

The first step in disaster assistance is setting up care centers to provide for basic requirements of the victims -- food, water, shelter and medical care. Typically, information on the locations of care centers is broadcast on local TV and radio stations.

Once the basic needs are taken care of, FEMA can help people get back on their feet, find a place to live, and begin rebuilding. When the president declares that the area a major disaster, special aid programs become available. Victims can apply online or by phone.

FEMA provides three different types of assistance:

Housing
  • Either money to rent temporary housing, or a place to live in a government housing unit if there's nowhere to rent
  • Money for home repairs to cover damages that aren't paid for by insurance
  • Grant money to replace uninsured homes that are completely destroyed

An optional emergency housing site under construction in Long Beach, Mississippi

Photo courtesy FEMA / Mark Wolfe

Medical
  • Assistance with medical treatment and prescriptions for disaster victims who suffer from medical conditions (whether they're related to the disaster or not)
  • Dental bills
  • Funeral expenses
Property
  • Storage, transport, and in some cases, replacement of personal property
  • Assistance with moving expenses
  • Rebuilding and repair of public infrastructure, including roads and bridges, sewer lines and public buildings
  • Debris removal

Next, we'll look at the structure of FEMA and the chain of command.