Early Beginnings & the Disaster Relief Act
Emergency management can be traced back to the Congressional Act of 1803, where Congress provided assistance to a New England town following an extensive fire. Over the course of years, the federal government made many changes to disaster legislation in response to natural disasters but it wasn't until the 1960s and 1970s that federal response and recovery took on new meaning. Starting with Hurricane Carla in 1962, a series of natural disasters occurred: Hurricane Betsy, an Alaskan earthquake, Hurricane Camille and the San Fernando earthquake. These events forced new legislation and the Disaster Relief Act was established. This piece of legislation birthed the process of Presidential disaster declarations.
Federal Emergency Management Agency
It was in 1979 that President Carter ordered the merging of the disaster related responsibilities under one name: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Along with numerous departments that were absorbed under FEMA, Civil Defense was also transferred from the Defense Department's Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. This transfer was due to FEMA;s "all-hazards" approach, where a full spectrum of emergencies from small events to war, would include similar activities to include direction, control and warning. This centralization was in part due to the complexity of responding to nuclear power hazards (Three Mile Island) and the transportation of hazardous substances (Love Canal).
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
The terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, changed the focus of FEMA from not only disaster relief and recovery but also national preparedness and homeland security. In 2003, FEMA joined other agencies to become the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). FEMA is now one of four branches under DHS. Its focus is to prepare, prevent, respond and recover from disasters with a vision of "A Nation Prepared."