Disaster Declarations - State and Federal

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab


About Disasters

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C §§ 5121-5207 (the Stafford Act) states that requests for a Presidential disaster declaration be made from the governor of the affected state.

If it is apparent that a Presidential disaster declaration may be necessary to help in the recovery of a certain impacted area, the state contacts the FEMA regional office to do a preliminary damage assessment (PDA). The assessment includes the extent of the disaster, its impact on individuals and public facilities, and the types of federal assistance that may be needed. Once the PDA is complete and the State determines that the damage exceeds its resources, the Governor can submit a declaration request through the FEMA Regional Office. 

Usually, the PDA is completed prior to the Governor's request for a major disaster declaration. However, when a severe or catastrophic event occurs, the Governor can submit the request prior to the completion of the PDA. The PDA has information about the nature and the number of resources that the State commits to the disaster, an estimate of the amount of severity of the damage, and an estimate of the type and amount of assistance needed under the Stafford Act

A Governor may request an emergency declaration in advance or in anticipation of a disaster event where the destruction and damages are imminent. Requests must demonstrate the existence of critical emergency protective measure needs prior to impact beyond the capability of the State and affected local governments and identify specific unmet emergency needs that can be met through direct federal assistance. 

State Disaster Declarations

State Disaster Declarations

The Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Assistance and Disaster Act (Louisiana Disaster Act) – Louisiana Revised Statutes (LRS) Title 29:721 - 739 – provides the authority for the Governor, Parish Presidents, and municipal chief executive officers to issue emergency declarations. Parish Presidents and Mayors can declare a State of Emergency in their respective jurisdictions. The Governor can declare a State of Emergency for any jurisdiction in the State or the State as a whole.

The occurrence of a disaster or emergency requires a response that creates issues not experienced in the everyday management of government. The emergency declaration grants the Governor and local officials in the declared area the authority to exercise extraordinary police powers to respond to the incident – powers they do not possess without the issuance of a properly executed emergency declaration.

When an emergency or disaster event overwhelms State and local resources, the Governor can request Federal assistance through a Presidential declaration.

  • Damages have to be assessed.
  • Damage indicators must be met.
  • Local authorities have to declare the State of Emergency.
  • The Governor has to request the Presidential declaration.
  • FEMA Region VI has to approve it before it lands on the President’s desk.

The request must be made 30 days from the date of the disaster event. 

Federal Disaster Declarations

Federal Disaster Declarations

When the state and local governments do not have the resources to respond, the Governor can ask the President to declare a major disaster or emergency. If the President makes a declaration, federal programs may help provide assistance. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) authorizes the President to issue an emergency or major disaster declaration, or both, for disasters that overwhelm the combined capabilities of State and local government resources. 

There are two types of federal declarations. 

Emergency Declarations 

  • Federal Help goes to state and local emergency services. No benefits are given to individuals. 

Major Disaster Declarations 

  • The three general categories of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance are Individual Assistance, Public Assistance, and Hazard Mitigation. These are available depending on the need and what the Governor requests. Individuals only get help if the declaration includes Individual Assistance. The other help goes to local governments.

An Emergency Declaration addresses impending emergencies or disasters. It is issued when, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and protect property and public health and safety or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.

A major declaration is issued post-disaster when, in the determination of the President, damages are of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance to supplement the efforts and available resources of local governments, States, and certain private nonprofit organizations (PNPs) – those that provide critical and essential governmental-type services – and individuals.

Major declarations open the door to the availability of disaster-related Stafford Act funding and technical assistance as well as Federal assistance under other authorities. A Stafford Act disaster declaration may also trigger Federal funding from other sources, such as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), among others.

Assistance programs may include:

  • FEMA Public Assistance (PA)
  • FEMA Individual Assistance (IA)
  • FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)
  • Direct Federal Assistance (DFA)
  • Community loans

Not all FEMA programs get activated for every disaster. The determination of what programs get authorized is based on the type of assistance in the request and the needs identified in the preliminary damage assessments. FEMA disaster programs are as follows: 


The Governor can appeal the denial of a major disaster emergency declaration request. The appeal must be submitted within 30 days of the date of the denial letter and should include additional information justifying the need for supplemental federal assistance. 

Last Review and Update: Sep 12, 2022
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