States and U.S. territories, as well as tribes, typically respond to small-scale disasters and emergencies on their own or with assistance from nearby jurisdictions and volunteer groups. But in cases where the scale of a disaster exceeds local capacity, these authorities can appeal for help from Washington.
Typically, the federal government only comes in once a governor makes a formal request to the White House. These appeals are generally based on a preliminary damage assessment conducted by a team of local, state, and federal officials. Housed within the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for coordinating Washington’s response to disasters on U.S. soil.