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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Public Health and Medical Services Support

First Response

The first response in a disaster is always local, and comprised of local government emergency services supplemented by state and volunteer organizations.  This aspect of the “disaster response” is specifically coordinated by state and local authorities.

Federal Disaster Response

When an incident overwhelms or is anticipated to overwhelm State resources, the Governor may request Federal assistance.  In such cases, the affected local jurisdiction, tribe, State, and the Federal Government will collaborate to provide that necessary assistance.  When it is clear that State capabilities will be exceeded, the Governor can request Federal assistance, including assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act).  The Stafford Act authorizes the President to provide financial and other assistance to State and local governments, certain private nonprofit organizations, and individuals to support response, recovery, and mitigation efforts following Presidential emergency or major disaster declarations.  Additional guidance on requesting Federal support and details regarding Federal involvement under the Stafford Act can be found in the overview document at the NRF Resources Center.  Additional information about the Stafford Act’s disaster process and disaster aid program is available from FEMA.

Federal Public Health and Medical Emergency Response

The Secretary of HHS leads all Federal public health and medical response to public health and medical emergencies and incidents covered by the National Response Framework (NRF).  Under the NRF, HHS leads ESF 8, the mechanism for coordinated Federal assistance to supplement State, tribal, and local resources in response to a public health and medical disaster, potential or actual incidents requiring a coordinated Federal response, and/or during a developing potential health and medical emergency

Learn More about Emergency Support Function 8 >>

Legal Authority of the HHS Secretary

The HHS Secretary has legal authority to take action under several statutes, including the following:

  • Public Health Service Act
  • Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act
  • Social Security Act
  • Robert T. Stafford Act

Learn more about the legal authority of the Secretary

  • This page last reviewed: May 08, 2015