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The U. Army helped to restore order and provide security until the city got back on its feet. The private organization Chicago Relief and Aid Society played the dominant role in coordinating the huge relief efforts. In Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which has had important implications for the federal role in disasters. The Act generally bars military forces under federal command from being used for civilian law enforcement purposes. In his veto message, Cleveland said,. In San Francisco was struck by a massive earthquake and fire that destroyed 80 percent of the city and killed about 3, people.
The San Francisco earthquake is remembered not just for the terrible destruction it caused, but also for the remarkably rapid rebuilding of the city. More than , residents initially left the city, but the population recovered to pre-quake levels within just three years, and residents quickly rebuilt about 20, buildings.
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The private sector response to the disaster was extremely impressive. Voluntary aid poured in from around the country. John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and W. The health care and home-products company Johnson and Johnson quickly loaded rail cars full of donated medical supplies and sent them to San Francisco. The insurance industry was crucial to the rebuilding. About 90 percent of San Francisco residents had fire insurance from more than different companies.
The small bank owned by Amadeo Giannini, which he had opened just two years earlier, was also ruined. But Giannini was able to rescue his gold and securities, and the next day he opened for business on a wharf on San Francisco Bay. His rapid response and willingness to provide loans to all types of people after the disaster helped him gain the respect of the city. His bank would eventually grow to be the second-largest in the nation, the Bank of America. Another impressive story is that of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which immediately swung into action and provided free evacuation for more than , city residents to anywhere in the country.
What about the government response to the San Francisco conflagration? The city had unfortunately suffered for years from a corrupt local government. The main federal organization that responded was the U.
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Army, which moved quickly to take control of the city and provide water, food, tents, and other relief items. Within five hours of the earthquake hitting, the Army had 1, troops in the city. In the Great Easter Flood ravaged a huge area in one of the most widespread and damaging disasters to ever strike the United States. Americans responded with huge contributions to the Red Cross and other charitable organizations aiding victims. Ohio was the hardest hit state, and Dayton probably the hardest hit city. Seeing the flood disaster that was about to happen, Patterson seized the initiative and NCR become the central funder and organizer of relief in the city.
NCR built boats to rescue flood victims, organized search teams, and provided meals and shelter for thousands of people. John Patterson was an interesting leader. He instituted innovative and enlightened management practices, such as providing a wide range of recreation and medical amenities for workers.
But he was also an aggressive businessman, and he and other NCR executives were found guilty of violating federal antitrust laws just weeks before the flood, although this was reversed on appeal. Historian Trudy Bell writes in detail about the disaster. These days, sadly, the situation is the reverse: there is a large amount of fraud in relief programs in the wake of disasters. In War Department regulations established precedents that guided the federal role in disaster relief in subsequent decades.
In one of the most damaging floods in U. The safety of the United States is its multitudinous mass leadership. It was the Disaster Relief Act of that started to change that by creating a permanent, civilian structure for federal disaster relief. The Act authorized only a small amount of funding, but it gave the president continuing authority to respond to hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, and other events with various types of aid.
The law reaffirmed that the federal role was to provide supplementary aid to state and local governments only in the severest of emergencies. In the decades after the law, Congress expanded the scope of federal aid in more than a dozen laws.
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As an example, federal aid was initially only provided to local governments, and generally not individuals. But Congress added aid for individuals in the Disaster Relief Act of In the National Flood Insurance Act offered federal insurance to properties at risk for flooding. A key justification by supporters of federal flood insurance was that it would alleviate the need to pass special aid legislation after each flood disaster.
As it has turned out, however, taxpayers are now both subsidizing flood insurance and paying for special relief bills passed after floods. This administration was the main forerunner of FEMA.
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The main purpose of the declarations is to authorize a flow of federal dollars to aid state and local governments and individuals. The number of presidential declarations has soared since the s, as discussed below. Carter was prompted to create the new agency after the confused and ineffective federal responses to Hurricane Agnes in and the Three Mile Island incident of In the Robert T.
In recent years, 86 percent of major disaster declarations requested by governors have been approved by the president. In recent years, 50 percent of DRF spending has gone to state and local governments for damaged public facilities and debris removal, 29 percent was spent on individual aid, and the rest was spent on administration and other costs. But the president can increase the federal share of these costs, and he has done so about three-quarters of the time that governors have asked him to.
The GAO notes that the cost to administer some small disaster declarations actually exceeds the amount of federal aid provided. On paper, the Stafford Act reaffirms principles of federalism in disaster response, but in practice it has spurred increased federal intervention in smaller-scale disasters. In President George W.
It has not turned out that way. In Hurricane Katrina caused massive damage to the Gulf Coast, flooded New Orleans, and killed more than 1, people.
FEMA appears to have done a better job in responding to Hurricane Sandy in , although there was still plenty of criticism. The storm caused an estimated deaths and tens of billions of dollars in damage in New York, New Jersey, and other states. In the U. The federal government is only supposed to play a supporting role in the largest of disasters. FEMA, or any other federal agency, is there to aid the disaster response process through the National Response Framework and programs it administers, and to coordinate federal resources in response to state requests—not to be in the lead or take command.
A decentralized approach to disasters makes sense.
Under the U. From a practical perspective, it is state, local, and private organizations and resources that are on the scene and available to immediately assist in emergencies. State and local governments employ 1. This is a troubling development.
Excessive federal intervention threatens to undermine and crowd out more efficient state, local, and private disaster response efforts. Also, federal interventions usually come with top-down rules that stifle innovation and reduce the efficiency of state and local government services. What is the cause of rising federal intervention in disasters?
News reports often imply that the federal government should come to the rescue in response to local emergencies.