5000 Presidential Declaration Process

Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009


5100 Introduction

Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009


When a disaster occurs, Emergency Services Programs (ESP) staff immediately prepare for the implementation of the Other Needs Assistance (ONA) provision of the IHP. ESP staff assist in requesting a presidential disaster declaration by participating in a damage survey. A major disaster declaration by the President is required for activation of the ONA. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) manage the initial activities in response to a disaster. HHSC's involvement is described in the following sequence of events.


5200 Sequence of Events

Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009




5210 Initial Disaster Response

Revision 05-1; Effective October 1, 2004


During a disaster incident, local fire and police services are involved in search and rescue activities. Depending on the nature of the disaster, state and federal organizations may also be involved in search and rescue.

Immediately after a disaster incident, local officials begin initial damage assessment activities. The American Red Cross also begins initial assessment efforts because volunteer agencies are usually the first organizations to begin recovery efforts.


5220 Governor's Survey

Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009


The Governor's office conducts a survey only if local officials request assistance in recovering from the damage. The Governor's office survey team is composed of representatives from the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). The team recommends to the director of TDEM whether it is appropriate for the Governor to request that the President declare a major disaster. The director then makes a recommendation to the Governor. The team considers the need for assistance to individuals and families and considers the damage to facilities, buildings, roads and bridges. HHSC state office staff and the regional disaster assistance coordinator for the affected region are usually asked to assist in the survey. HHSC staff assist in the assessment of the extent of damage to individuals' homes, furniture and vehicles; TDEM officials handle the assessment for city- and county-owned property, such as water and sewer systems, roads and bridges.

Survey Purpose — Information from the Governor's survey is needed to determine the following:

  • The magnitude of the disaster's effect on individuals and public facilities.
  • The severity of damage to property, and loss of lives and dollars.
  • The incidence period (or dates) when the damage occurred.
  • The income level of the affected population.
  • The percentage of losses that would be covered by insurance.
  • Whether there is a need to initiate various state and federal disaster assistance programs, including the Individuals and Households Program (IHP).
  • The estimated number of Other Needs Assistance (ONA) grants that would be awarded should the ONA Program be activated.
  • The estimated average ONA grant amount and estimated ONA total grant amount that would be disbursed.

As noted, the survey helps staff determine whether the damage from the disaster requires resources beyond the capabilities of local and state governments. This determination is a key factor in determining whether the Governor requests that the President declare the area a major disaster area. A presidential declaration is needed to activate the Federal Assistance to Individual sand Households Program, which consists of Housing Assistance administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Other Needs Assistance administered by HHSC. Other recovery services, such as volunteer assistance by the American Red Cross or disaster loan assistance (available for both individuals and businesses) from the Small Business Administration (SBA), do not depend on a declaration by the President. These agencies determine and implement their own criteria for providing recovery assistance to the affected community.

Factors used to evaluate the need for a presidential disaster declaration:

  • Concentration of damages — High concentrations of damages generally indicate a greater need for federal assistance than widespread and scattered damages throughout a state.
  • Trauma — The degree of trauma is considered in presidential disaster declarations. Some of the conditions that might cause trauma are:
    • large numbers of injuries and deaths;
    • large-scale disruption of normal community sanctions and services; and
    • emergency needs such as extended or widespread loss of power or water.
  • Special populations — If the low-income, elderly or unemployed are affected, they may have a greater need for assistance.
  • Voluntary agency assistance — Consideration is given regarding the extent to which voluntary agencies and state or local programs can meet the needs of the disaster victims.
  • Insurance — The amount of insurance is considered, because by law federal disaster assistance cannot duplicate insurance coverage.
  • Average amount of individual assistance by state — There is no set threshold for recommending individual assistance, but the following averages may prove useful to states and voluntary agencies as they develop plans and programs to meet the needs of disaster victims:

    Large states (like Texas)
    • Number of homes estimated major damage/destroyed = 801
    • Number of Housing Assistance applications approved = 4,679
    • Number of Other Needs Assistance approvals = 2,071
    • Dollar amount of ONA assistance = $4.6 million
    • Combined assistance = $14.1 million

Survey Methods — The method(s) of survey depends upon the type of disaster and the program data to be documented.

An aerial survey, organized by the TDEM, may be used. The extent of damage and isolated areas of damage can be seen from the air, so this method is especially effective in disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and widespread flooding.

The state or state-and-federal team usually conducts a survey by vehicle, driving through the area to verify damage and geographic boundaries. If requested, the ESP leader or designee represents HHSC on the state survey team. Depending on the circumstances, state office staff may ask regional staff to participate in the survey.

The director of TDEM usually determines survey methods after consultation with local and state officials. TDEM officials also make arrangements with local officials to meet with survey team members to show them the damaged areas. The survey team counts damaged homes, apartment units and mobile homes and classifies the damage as affected, minor, major or destroyed. Team members also record the estimated average income level of persons in the affected area and the percentage of homes that are insured for the type of damage incurred.


5230 Governor's Request

Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009


In Texas, TDEM staff prepare the Governor's request for a presidential disaster declaration. If the Governor asks the President to declare an area a major disaster area, the Governor must provide documentation of the damages and describe the state's plan for recovery operations. The Governor's request must indicate that the state:

  • will implement the state emergency management plan,
  • has disaster-caused needs beyond state and local capabilities, and
  • will commit reasonable expenditure of state and local funds.

The Governor's request is sent to FEMA's regional headquarters in Denton, Texas.


5240 FEMA Regional Office Recommendation

Revision 05-1; Effective October 1, 2004


FEMA regional staff make a recommendation, which is sent to FEMA national office in Washington, D.C. The recommendation must indicate that there are disaster-caused needs and available resources to meet those needs. The recommendation states whether aid available under the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000, Public Law 106-390, is required.


5250 FEMA National Office Recommendation

Revision 05-1; Effective October 1, 2004


The FEMA national office makes a recommendation to the President. The recommendations by state and regional federal officials are analyzed and considered. Additional information is obtained, if needed. If a declaration is recommended, FEMA prepares the documents for the President's signature.


5260 Major Disaster Declaration

Revision 05-1; Effective October 1, 2004


The President must determine if the disaster caused damage of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance under Public Law 106-390, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Major disaster assistance goes beyond the local jurisdiction's emergency services. It supplements the efforts and available resources of state and local governments and disaster relief organizations in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship or suffering the disaster caused. Damage to public and private property is considered.

A major disaster declaration by the President activates the Federal Assistance to Individuals and Households (IHP) Program, and its two provisions, Housing Assistance and Other Needs Assistance.


5270 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)


Revision 09-1; Effective July 20, 2009


A request for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) SNAP (formerly emergency food stamp) declaration is separate from a request for the presidential declaration of a major disaster. Therefore, HHSC staff must be prepared at regional and state office levels to survey and determine the need for requesting both USDA and presidential declarations.