Learning Disaster Management from the United States

It is similar with characteristics as what Indonesian archipelago experience. The United States of America also has natural phenomena that end with disasters. The disasters that

can hit the country with the world’s third largest population cover flood, flash flood, drought, forest fire, earthquake, tsunami to hurricane. We definitely remember with a big disaster hit the United States in the 20th century i.e. Hurricane Katrina that killed more than 1.000 people, as well a hurricane that just happened a few times ago, Hurricane Harvey in the southern United States. The southern region of the United States is prone to devastated hurricanes that it is on the path of a hurricane starting in the Pacific Ocean.


Establishing disaster management system, the United States with 50 states has a long history. The history started in 1803 as a policy issued by the United States Congress to provide assistance towards New Hampshire City, that experience heavy fire. Developing process cannot be separated from bigger incidents. The incidents were the main concern of the federal government at the time when floods management were conducted in some areas. Along with times, complexity of incidents, such as hurricane and earthquake, encouraged the Federal Government to straighten disaster management.

Hurricane Irma Survivors Register at FEMA Event in Fort Myers, Florida
Foto: FEMA

Some efforts for establishing an agency had been conducted in the process of perfecting the disaster management in the country. Such as in 1930s, the national government or the Federal formed the reconstruction finance corporation that had an authority for giving loans in post-disaster because of an earthquake or other types of disaster. Afterwards in 1960s and the beginning of 1970s as a big earthquake occurred, the Federal Government deployed large resources during emergency response and recovery, that was conducted by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. This agency was under the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Flooding, as one of big disasters during the period, encouraged the issuance of some regulations such as National Flood Insurance Act, Flood Disaster Protection Act, as well Disaster Relief Act. During that period, more than 100 Federal agencies had been involved on disaster management in the United States.

011082709 FUGATE
Foto: FEMA

As a disaster occurs, different institutions sometimes have similar or perhaps different policies, as well in states or local level. Such the condition requires a solution on how to simplify complexity of bureaucracy so that maximize disaster management efforts under the Federal Government. At the end, the National Governor’s Association requested the President Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, to propose to the Congress a reorganization plan in disaster management. The reorganization had an objective to centralize functions of disaster management at federal level. The main factor in the reorganization was to emphasize on efforts of preparedness, mitigation and response under one institution. Therefore, an institution was formed i.e. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) since 1979.

For 38 years, the FEMA mission is to lead citizens to prepare disaster management capabilities, namely prevention, mitigation, response and recovery. FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security is committed to coordinating the roles of every federal institution in the prevention, mitigation, emergency response and recovery of any kind of disaster, both natural and non-natural, including terror.


Disaster Management in the U.S.

Observing the disaster management system in the United States cannot be separated from the system of government. FEMA as the disaster management institution at the federal level has an  authority to support the states that request assistance. In the context of the federal government in the United States, there are difference between sovereign and non-sovereign domains as part of commitment among the states. The four sovereign domain must be governed only federally are namely defense, monetary, foreign affairs and interstate commerce. Disaster management is the non-sovereign domains out of those four sovereign domain. It means that the states have their own decision whether and how to collaborate federally in any of the non-sovereign domains. However, in term of disaster management, other states and even the federal government are able to support affected states. Through collaboration and coordination, the federal government may mobilize national resources if there is a request from the affected state.


Based from here, the disaster management system has been built and developed up to now. Some institutions provide supports in organizing at each phase, pre, during and post-disaster. Coordination, collaboration and cooperation corridors are summarized into the legal documents of the National Response Framework (NRF) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). What is NRF and NIMS? These two documents complement to each other in the implementation of disaster management. The NRF outlines the national policy structure and mechanisms for incident management, while the NIMS is an incident management pattern regardless of whether the size, scope and cause of such incidents are small or large.

In incidents or disasters handling, several important factors become concern of various responders. These factors include general features of handling operations, interoperability, resource management, command and emergency management. Talking of interoperability, disaster management agencies at the federal, state, county, municipality level understand their position in coordination and collaboration. On the other hand, interoperability also applies to communication systems that can be understood at each level. For example, responders at all levels use WebEOC, a web-based crisis management system, in incident response communications. Then, on command and emergency management implement an incident command system (ICS) system, where Indonesia has adapted this system. An obligation for responder to know what ICS is because this system is able to make the responses be effective.

IMG_20170921_091949_HDRMeanwhile, risk reduction as mainstreaming in disaster management obtains particular attention from the President of the United States. A committee named Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction (SDR) as a think-tank of the National Commission on Science and Technology serves to provide a forum for information exchange, collaboration and opportunity development, scientific and technological formulation as a guide for decision makers and dialogue with communities. Discussion of strategic issues related to the disaster management becomes the task of this committee.

The federal government also support a program called Community Emergency Response Team or CERT. Concept of CERT was initiated by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. Afterwards, FEMA adopted the program nationally in 1993. Through CERT, community is more trained in technical skills. Considering the community who is at the front line during incident or disaster, it should respond first. Therefore, preparation of the community becomes very important in disaster management. CERT program involves community organizations, private institutions, red cross, and volunteers. The program that have trained more that 600.000 individuals facilitates the community in capacity building such as emergency response skills, fire management, search and rescue, team organization, to simple medical treatment. CERT office supported by FEMA also provides a special warehouse that can be utilized by other stakeholders to place their vehicles or equipment.

On the other hand, one thing that differentiate with the Indonesian context is contribution provided by community organization. Many community organization in the United States have millions of volunteers who can be mobilized during emergency response. Through the organization, the volunteers who are more interested in a certain skill are able to take further training for capacity building. They are ultimately proficient and standardized nationally. Meanwhile, developed competencies are also diverse, ranging from first aid, victim management, shelter, up to search and rescue. The volunteers with these competencies can be deployed either through their organization or the government’s request for disaster management on both small and large scale.


These organizations independently and cooperate with the government at every level in producing high-standard human resources, such as Red Rock Search and Rescue (RRSAR) in which stand alone to procure SAR equipment and strengthen personnel capacity. This organization relies on 100% of donations from the public. There is also a Maryland Search and Rescue (MSAR) of trained volunteers. In addition, support also comes from professionals and universities, such as for sharing knowledge to personnel, which is as well as voluntarism.

In addition to the role of community organizations, the American Red Cross (ARC) plays a broad role in disaster management not only national and even international level. Funding for all ARC activities comes from the generosity of American citizens.


Education is an Investment for Community Resilience

Some interesting points observed is how educational institutions become the best place to educate people from an early age. It can be seen how teachers prepare their students at the UCLA Community School in Los Angeles, California. Teachers teach and invite students to discuss the potential hazards in their neighborhood. The students in the city are well aware that they are exposed to the potential hazard of earthquake considering being close to the fault, such as San Andreas or Lagada Salada.

IMG-20170928-WA0012Students know well how to respond to crisis or disaster; they know the potential hazards around them until how to make an evacuation plan if disaster strikes. They are already planning how to meet with other family members when they are not together. Not only that, the students with the teachers and the responder conduct exercises or drills regularly in the school in September every year.

In a school environment, the United States has an institution called school district. The institution numbering about 13,506 is a special institution that runs public schools at the elementary to high school levels in the county and municipality areas. One of the supporting institutions in this school district is police school district. The police school district has a task to support safety and security in the school environment; disaster management including terror becomes part of the responsibility of this institution.

Thanks to Mr.  Akram R.  Elias and Mr.  Ming-Yuan Shih



6 thoughts on “Learning Disaster Management from the United States

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