Emergency managers must familiarize themselves with the different types of stakeholders in their communities. The roles of stakeholders in the emergency management process can be understood by examining the levels at which different types of decisions are made. For example, decisions about the level of preparedness for each individual household are made at the household level, and emergency managers can support good mitigation and preparedness practices by undertaking public education efforts and enhancing local government support for organizations such as CERTs.
Decisions about the level of attention and resources devoted to local emergency management are made by local government. Each emergency strikes a specific locality and so, in the United States, all emergency management is based on local government institutions and agencies. Agencies from outside the community, such as state emergency management agencies and FEMA, have a great deal of influence on local emergency management policies and practices. However, the emergency management process is fundamentally a local issue. Cities control their own emergency responders (primarily fire, police, EMS) and these groups must compete for resources with other local needs such as schools and roads.
In the United States, land use practices such as zoning ordinances and building codes are also established at the local level, but state governments create the context within which local governments work. This legal authority means legislation covering the powers of the city and county governments originates at the state level. For example, some states require local jurisdictions to engage in land use planning whereas other states do not (Burby, 1998). Moreover, states vary in the degree to which they support local emergency managers with technical resources and monetary aid for specific needs. Notwithstanding the important contextual role played by the states, it is local governments that are empowered to control land use for the public good. Consequently, local governments make the decisions about specific land use controls as they undertake land use planning and zoning programs. In addition, local governments adopt building codes that establish requirements for hazard resistance, especially for wind and seismic hazards. Local government also makes decisions about levels of staffing and resources for local emergency responders (fire, police, EMS).
Public works departments or their equivalents, transportation departments, water conservation districts, and other local or regional bodies make and implement policies that affect emergency management. In some cases, such as Harris County Texas where the city of Houston is located, regional emergency management has merged with the transportation and police to form joint EOC operations that integrate many functions.
In addition to local governments, state governments have a number of important emergency management functions. For instance, in the case of a major disaster, a local government would request aid from its state emergency management agency (SEMA). In turn, the SEMA can call upon other state agencies, not least of which is the agency administering that state’s National Guard units. The latter are invaluable in many disasters because of their communication and transportation equipment, as well as their trained personnel.
If a state believes it needs more resources than are available, it can request a Presidential Disaster Declaration in order to have access to federal assistance. Most, but not all, requests for Presidential Disaster Declaration are approved. Disapprovals occur when FEMA disagrees that local and state resources have been exceeded. Between the passage of the Stafford Act in 1988 and 1998, only about one-fourth of the requests for a Presidential Disaster Declaration were denied (Sylves, 1998). The federal government has attempted to implement an objective set of criteria for deciding whether to issue a Presidential Disaster Declaration, but the process still includes many subjective decision points, and political considerations have affected the declaration process.