The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the U.S. government agency charged with coordinating disaster response at a scale that goes beyond the capacities of local or state governments. The agency provides on-the-ground recovery efforts in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and local agencies and also provides state and local governments with expert advice, funding, and training.

In this interview with Municipal Water Leader, a FEMA spokesperson highlighted the planning resources that FEMA has prepared for local government entities and explained how municipalities and municipal water districts can best work with FEMA.

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Municipal Water Leader: When a natural disaster strikes, what is the breakdown of responsibilities between federal, state, and local entities?

FEMA: Once a disaster is approved for federal assistance, response is state managed and locally executed with federal support, including funding and technical assistance.

Municipal Water Leader: How can municipalities and municipal water districts work best with FEMA?

Workers install a blue tarp on a roof damaged by Hurricane Irma in Monroe County, Florida, as a part of FEMA’s Operation Blue Roof program.

FEMA: We encourage municipalities to initially coordinate with their local and state emergency management agencies. Those are the two entities they will be coordinating with before, during, and after most disasters. If it is apparent that a presidential disaster declaration may be necessary to assist in the recovery of the affected area, a state or tribal government should contact its FEMA regional office and request a joint Federal and State/Tribal Preliminary Damage Assessment. Local government representatives should be included, if possible. (For more information on the Disaster Declaration Process, please visit If a presidential disaster declaration has been made, the state or tribe will set up public assistance applicants’ briefings and invite potential applicants.

Municipal Water Leader: What kind of preparations should municipalities do before a disaster hits?

FEMA: FEMA works to ensure that communities have the tools needed to make informed decisions to reduce risks and vulnerabilities and to effectively respond and recover. Municipalities need to understand potential threats and hazards and write a predisaster recovery plan to address those areas. For more information, please see FEMA’s publications Pre-Disaster Recovery Planning Guide for Local Governments and Hurricane Playbook.

Municipal Water Leader: How should people plan ahead for a natural disaster?

FEMA: FEMA has an entire website dedicated to helping individuals plan ahead for disasters. We encourage your readers to visit This site will inform them about disasters and how to plan ahead and take action when one occurs.

Randy Conner is the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Water Management. For more information about the Department of Water Management, please visit