The Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly known as FEMA, is an agency within the Department of Homeland Security and a part of the executive branch of the federal government.
It is tasked with assisting local and state authorities when it comes to responding and recovering from domestic disasters whether they are man-made or natural. A key component when it comes to doing its job is that the state or local authority must declare a state of emergency and formally request aid from the president.
FEMA was established by executive order in 1978 and then implemented through a pair of them in 1979. It was officially established on April 1, 1979. However, its origins can be traced back as far as the Congressional Act of 1803, the first piece of disaster-assistance legislation.
In the government began to step up its efforts to assist people when it came to recovering from disasters. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation was formed by President Hoover in 1932 to help stimulate the economy by loaning banks money in order to help affected communities rebuild. It was followed by the Bureau of Public Roads in 1934 and the Flood Control Act of 1944 that gave the Army Corps of Engineers control of flood control and irrigation projects.
Prior to the executive orders that formed FEMA in 1978 and '79, there were over 100 agencies that could become involved with control and jurisdiction in disaster-affected areas. The federal government started trying to consolidate disaster relief efforts in 1973 when it formed the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration under the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, FEMA was tasked with aiding local first responders became trained in how to respond to terrorist attacks. In 2003 FEMA became one of 22 agencies that were reorganized to form the Department of Homeland Security.
William Fugate is the current administrator of FEMA (as of January 2012). He began serving in that capacity on May 19, 2009.