What Government Can Do

Regardless of community size or the nature of the disaster, local government leaders are responsible for overseeing all four phases of emergency management—preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation. Federal and state governments play a supporting role in the immediate aftermath and in providing funding and guidance for long-term recovery and mitigation. Preparation and response—half of the emergency management cycle—generally get the most attention, particularly in high-risk areas. Preparing to respond usually involves significant training and practice to ensure that key local employees and supporting resources are ready to jump into action quickly and that local residents understand their roles and responsibilities in preparing for and responding to disasters.

Government responsibilities before an event

  • Understand what is involved in the Recovery Process at all levels of Government.
  • Learn about the different aspects of the community that help the community run and utilize resilience activities to engage with the community to prepare and to learn about recovery and their part in the process.
  •  Engage in readiness activities that include these elements that highlight recovery issues:


1. Training & Exercising schedules should allow for:

  • Specific recovery-context learning (such as disaster expenditure)
  • A general understanding of recovery roles and the development of competencies.
  • A selection of training processes (for both individual and shared learning experiences)
  • Regular exercises to validate plans.

2. Public Education &Information planning should include consideration of recovery issues such as:

  • Disaster awareness and training.
  • Public understanding of recovery and the processes involved.
  • Public expectations of what assistance might be available.
  • Design of material and information sites on where to seek assistance.
  • Design of material on how to deal with damaged property.

3. Business Continuity Planning should be encouraged to local businesses and organizations and departments, to ensure rapid restoration of function and supply, and to free up resources for priority recovery tasks.

4. Increasing Community Capacity by encouraging active community participation pre-event in readiness activities and by establishing relationships with community leaders.

Financing long-term disaster recovery poses significant and often frustrating challenges for local leaders who must rely on the state and federal government as major sources of disaster recovery funds. Those challenges are exacerbated in the heat of a crisis when funding is urgent, not optional or negotiable. That’s why incorporating a framework for financing long-term recovery improves the odds of success when disaster strikes.

Strategies that can be put in place well before a disaster include:

(1) understanding all federal requirements for response and recovery grants, including required documentation for reimbursements.

(2) identifying all potential sources of funding for long-term recovery.

(3) establishing lines of credit to provide cash flow for direct expenses and matches while waiting for federal funds; and 

(4) identifying internal staff, or external resources, or both, to manage the financial side of recovery.

Knowledge of federal resources and the rules governing access to those resources is essential to maximize funds to support long-term recovery. Association of Bay Area Governments offers these pre-disaster financial recovery action steps for local governments:

  • Modify purchasing and contracting procedures to expedite emergency purchases.
  • Adopt a repair and reconstruction ordinance to facilitate use of FEMA public assistance dollars.
  • Establish an internal claims reimbursement process for FEMA funds.
  • Adopt a local hazard mitigation plan as part of the general plan to facilitate access to additional FEMA funds.

A significant event that interrupts normal life will push a community over the edge. A registry of special needs can help all the local governments anticipate those special needs and work on filling the gaps and understanding the vulnerabilities within the community.

Here are guidelines that can be useful for maintaining local government service levels:

  • Prepare a clear plan for enabling employees to participate in response and recovery by helping them meet family needs in advance.
  • Establish a disaster housing plan for essential first responder employees— police, fire, emergency operations center staff, shelter workers, and damage assessment and repair teams.
  • Maintain the necessary financial relationships to ensure that employees’ paychecks are issued and a backup plan for delivery when direct deposit is not used.
  • Ensure that employees and their families have guidance on developing a personal support kit and family disaster plan.
  • Establish expectations of all employees—both essential first responders and all other employees—in personnel policy and labor agreements, with options for dealing with failure to meet those expectations.
  • Establish a clear communication method for employees only—an 800 number, a radio station, an e-mail system, a meeting place for information, or other means—to provide up-to-date information about employee expectations and public service needs.

Source: Adapted from Frances L. Edwards, “Businesses Prepare Their Employees for Disaster Recovery,” The Public Manager, Winter 2006.

During Recovery for Government

Long-term recovery from a major disaster can be a long, slow process. 

Keeping an eye on the pulse of the community — and on the pulse of local government employees who are leading the recovery process — is important for sustaining the momentum and preserving the community spirit. Constant information and community connections are vital. Even when there’s no real news, having some news is important to assure a tired community that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Government Departments should develop a long-term recovery plan which also should include strategies for dealing with the psychological impact of a disaster and the pace of recovery.

During recovery cities and counties should address:

  • Financing
  • Expediting long-term housing recovery
  • Debris Management
  • Information Management
  • Supporting recovery of downtown businesses and the local economy
  • Ensuring local government facilities and services recover smoothly
  • Handling of Aspects of Social, Cultural, and Well-Being recovery activities to encourage community involvement in recovery

Governments should focus on re-establishing a healthy, functioning community that will sustain itself over time. Long-term recovery strategies and needs will vary depending on the scope of the disaster. Balancing ongoing public service expectations with urgent long-term recovery needs while ensuring that the vision for “new normal” is critical to effective whole community-based recovery.