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Disaster response revolves around the strategic, tactical, and operational objectives that define the decisions and actions needed promptly after a disaster. Urgent actions include evacuating people from immediate danger or ensuring they remain in safe reliable shelter with enough food and clean water.

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.

Is Your Organization Ready for a Disaster?

HAC’s Guide to Building a More Resilient Organization

Emergencies can happen at any time to any organization. They can range from natural disasters to loss of crucial staff, damage to computer systems, and business interruption. Organizations in rural areas are at a disadvantage because these areas tend to lack infrastructure and adequate communication systems, have limited first responders and municipal staff, and have inadequate accessible and affordable housing for displaced families and individuals.

Is your organization ready for a disaster? Download HAC’s guide to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery and start building a more resilient organization.

Providing Resources and Stability for Disaster Recovery

Wells Fargo accelerates recovery for customers with Mobile Response Unit.

By Connie Wright

Hunkered down in a small brick church being battered by Hurricane Florence’s 100 mph-plus winds and rain, Neal and April Williams looked with dread at the images on their cellphones of the home they had evacuated. Their daughter, Arianna, age three, played nearby, unaware of the havoc the storm was causing.

Emergency Relief Resources

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 Assistance for Nonprofits

This website provides a program overview, trainings, fact sheets, and cost estimating tools.

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 of an application.

FEMA Individual and Households Program

This website provides financial and direct services to eligible individuals and households affected by a disaster, who have uninsured or under-insured necessary expenses and serious needs. It includes resources for temporary housing and housing repair.

Figuring Out FEMA

A pocket guide to help people applying to FEMA’s Individual Assistance program.


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.


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 are available for each state.

USDA-RD Disaster Assistance

The resource guide outlines USDA Rural Development (RD) programs and services that can help rural residents, businesses and communities impacted by disasters and support long-term planning and recovery efforts. Information is included about 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

The step-by-step guide from NeighborWorks America and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation provides 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.

State and Local Emergency Services

This website from FEMA allows you to search for local services as does this website from Disaster Assistance Improvement Program. Every state has its own government agency that provides disaster and emergency assistance. Local governments may have emergency services agencies or may assign disaster assistance duties among a number of different agencies.

VA Disaster Assistance to Veterans

The brochure includes information on programs from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs including health, home loans, pension benefit assistance, and special adaptive programs.

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Emergency Management

The website displays 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.

Rural Disasters: Preparedness, Response, Recovery

An equitable recovery is possible.

By Ilene Jacobs and Christina Davila

Rural communities often confront disasters with limited resources and capacity. They may have little ability to prepare formally for natural disasters and lack sufficient affordable housing inventory or the basic infrastructure or local capacity to recover. Many rural areas are resilient in spirit and local effort, but focusing on this resilience can overlook the needs and the challenges they face. Communities, especially those in poverty, often have the hardest path to recovery.

Disaster Updates

Coronavirus news

Covid-19 Cases Explode as Omicron Variant Hits Rural America

The first reported case of COVID-19 in rural America was on February…

South and Midwest December 2021 Tornadoes

On Friday night, December 10th, 2021, tornadoes up to 80 mph…


Emergencies can happen at any time to any organization.
Is your organization prepared to respond?

Rural Resilience was made possible in part by support from Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo Logo

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