How Disasters are Declared
Guiding principle: All disasters are local first. Cities have the primary authority to prepare for and respond to disasters. County, state and federal government partners (in that order) stand ready and willing to help when needed.
When an incident is expected to overwhelm resources at the local level, requests for assistance are made through mutual aid or to the county. The county then makes requests to the state, which can request help from other states or to the federal government through FEMA.
How it works: Three types of assistance can come from FEMA: Individual Assistance (IA) (to homeowners), Public Assistance (PA) (for infrastructure), and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) (to lessen future disaster impacts).
For Federal Declarations to be approved, FEMA has established disaster thresholds based on population for each county and each state. For Utah, the State threshold is almost $6 million. A specific threshold has to be met in each affected county and at the state level. Thresholds are met with consideration towards eligible damages to public facilities, infrastructure, and historical properties. Damages covered by insurance must first be deducted before figuring cost estimates against the threshold amount. Private property damages are not a considered cost towards the threshold.
If it appears that Utah would meet the threshold, the Governor can request a preliminary damage assessment from FEMA. A team would arrive and work with state and local partners to determine if the thresholds are met and are likely eligible.
If so, the Governor, through the Utah Division of Emergency Management, would likely declare a state of emergency and request a disaster declaration to the President through FEMA Region 8 in Denver. If approved by the President in consultation with FEMA, eligible infrastructure damages are reimbursed by the federal government at a 75 percent share. The other 25 percent is a shared state and local cost.
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is available only when the President has declared a disaster and is 15% of the total FEMA cost of the disaster.
State resources: The State of Utah maintains a disaster recovery restricted account (53-2a-603) that provides certain amounts of emergency reimbursement to state agencies that respond in disasters. A local declaration is needed to activate this account and reimbursement is available only to State agencies who have responded to the incident. The costs may count toward the State’s match if a federal declaration is awarded. Resources are coordinated through the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Division of Emergency Management, Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Resource requests made to the EOC are filled by in-state available resources, by FEMA Region 8, or through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact.