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Exploring the dynamics


At the beginning of the twentieth century, federal and state

government involvement with EM increased gradually

following the growth of disaster science, the emergence of the

American Red Cross, and repeated occurrences of major

catastrophes. Nevertheless, governments at all levels lacked a

formal system to deal with pre-disaster mitigation and post-

disaster recovery. Prior to WWII, the federal government

viewed disasters as uncontrollable natural phenomena. After

WWII, the definition of disaster expanded to include

“intentional actions inflicted on communities,” which led to the

development of the civic defense system designed to “prevent

and deal with the consequence of man-made disasters” (Ward

& Wamsley, 2007: 207-208).

With the passage of the Federal Disaster Assistance Act

(Public Law 81-875) and the Civil Defense Act in 1950, the

federal natural disaster response system became more

formalized and motivated by the specter of nuclear war between

the Soviet Union and such allies as Cuba and the U.S. With the

creation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

in 1979, the federal government was expected to handle both

natural and man-made disasters. However, tensions in the

nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet

Union forced FEMA and U.S. civil defense to prepare mainly

against the possibility of nuclear attack. In the mid-1990s, after

the disastrous Hurricane Andrew demolished sections of south

Florida, FEMA integrated an all-hazards approach into modern

EM to enhance national capability towards natural disaster

responses (Sylves, 2008; Ward & Wamsley, 2007). Later, the

terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on

September 11, 2001 shifted national focus and attention to anti-

terrorism and homeland security issues. FEMA was absorbed

into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003 in

the aftermath of changes resulting from the 9/11 attacks. Under

these circumstances, the federal government turned its attention