Rural Resource Guides

Disaster Response for Rural Communities

Disaster relief efforts in the United States are coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Not every disaster warrants FEMA’s intervention, but under the provisions of the legislation that established FEMA, when a disaster “is beyond the capabilities of state and local resources,” the President may declare a “major disaster” or an “emergency.” Local, state, and FEMA officials evaluate the disaster, and submit a request for a declaration to the FEMA Regional Office, which reviews the request, submits it to the President, and makes recommendations to the President. As a result of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act, federally recognized Indian tribal governments now also have the option of pursuing a declaration directly from the President.

When the President makes a major disaster declaration, FEMA establishes offices in the federally declared disaster area to serve as centralized points of relief management. FEMA aids disaster survivors by directing them to the assistance program(s) (both public and private) for which they are eligible and that will be of the most benefit to them. In sum, the agency serves as the umbrella organization that coordinates the relief efforts of all relief agencies, public and private, local and national. Thus, it brings disaster recovery assistance into the stricken community.

FEMA’s role is especially important to disaster victims in rural areas due to a scarcity of local institutions with ready access to potential recovery resources and the ability to coordinate relief efforts. However, in spite of FEMA’s coordination, one of the most serious problems facing disaster victims in rural areas is still a lack of information about the resources and assistance available to them. This guide to short- and long-term housing and community development resources serves as a partial response to that critical need. It is intended for use by disaster-affected individual households as well as by community organizations acting on their behalf.

After a disaster strikes, responding may seem like a monumental task, but with support, cooperation, and drive, you can lead your community forward. Use the following resources to locate local, state, and federal funds and tools that will support your organization through the recovery process.


  • American Red Cross – The Disaster Relief and Recovery Services provides information on staying safe after a disaster, checking your home’s safety, recovering emotionally, and recovering financially. The Emergency Resource Library offers tips and strategies for preparing, responding, and recovering from disasters like, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, and winter storms.
  • FEMA Disaster Recovery Center – These accessible facilities and mobile offices are set up after a disaster to facilitate disaster recovery. Links are available to find assistance, apply online, and check the status.
  • Figuring Out FEMA – A free pocket guide to help people applying to FEMA’s Individual Assistance program.
  • HUD CDBG-DR – The Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program is a flexible source of funding that can be used to rebuild the affected areas and help with the recovery process.
  • HUD CDBG-MIT – The Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds can be used to carry out strategic and high-impact activities to mitigate disaster risks and reduce future losses. The website provides program information such as notices, requirements, and best practices in one place.
  • HUD State Information – Disaster relief and emergency assistance resources relevant to each state.
  • USDA-RD Disaster Assistance – Information for single-family housing loan borrowers, multi-family housing loan borrowers, Community Facilities loan borrowers, Community Facilities Grants, business owners, and Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants.
  • Navigating the Road to Housing Recovery – A comprehensive guide to resources and steps to take for individuals and families affected by natural disasters. It provides general disaster recovery information, guidance and resources for those with a clear housing recovery goal, and guidance and resources for those still deciding on their housing recovery goal.
  • VA Disaster Assistance to Veterans – The VA offers specific resources to benefit veterans related to health, home loans, pension benefit assistance, and special adaptive programs. Links and phone numbers provide even more information.
  • VHA Office of Emergency Management – The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) coordinates essential VA emergency medical response and support services at the local, regional, and national levels to ensure the health and safety of veteran patients and their families, staff, and visitors, and continued delivery of VHA health care services.