After a disaster strikes, the term “disaster declaration” is often on the news by reporters and public officials. But what is a disaster declaration and what does it do?
What is a Disaster Declaration?
A Disaster Declaration is a formal statement by the jurisdiction’s chief public official (i.e. Mayor, County Judge, or Governor) that a disaster or emergency situation exceeds their response capabilities.  Though commonly addressed after a disaster, a declaration may be made if a disaster is “imminent.”  A disaster declaration is not wide sweeping though. Each level of government (county, state, and federal) will tailor their disaster declaration to include only the area(s) impacted by the disaster.  Because Emergency Management in the United States takes a “bottom-up” approach to response, cities will proclaim a disaster declaration, followed by a county, then state, then the federal government.  Once a disaster declaration is issued, it is promptly recorded into public record and disseminated to the general public. 
What Kinds of Disaster Declarations Are There?
The federal government has two general types of disaster declarations. States generally follow a similar scheme depending on statute.  The President has the ultimate authority to approve or deny a governor’s request for assistance. 
Major Disaster Declarations
A Major Disaster Declaration is generally requested when a disaster exceeds the response capabilities of the state and local governments, and long term recovery assistance is needed.  Major Disaster Declarations are intended for only the most severe circumstances where the most help is needed to get the community as close as possible to a pre-disaster state. Incidentally, the majority of disaster response and recovery programs are at the disposal of the state governor following a Major Disaster Declaration.
An Emergency Declaration is generally requested when the state and local governments need help responding to an emergency or disaster; however, no long term recovery assistance is needed.  With this, generally only disaster response programs are at the disposal of the state governor following an Emergency Declaration. The President may downgrade a Governor’s Major Disaster Declaration request to an Emergency Declaration if they believe the former is not warranted. 
What Does a Disaster Declaration Do?
Simply put, a disaster declaration allows public officials to exercise emergency powers to preserve life, property, and public health following a disaster.  Some of these powers include:
- Ordering an evacuation of a disaster threatened or stricken area ;
- Control access to an area following a disaster ;
- Hold individuals liable for the cost of rescue efforts if they ignore mandatory evacuations ;
- Temporarily suspend certain regulations and deadlines ;
- Temporarily disarm individuals during the state of disaster ; and
- Request federal financial assistance for recovery projects in the disaster stricken area .
Most often, disaster declarations are sought so federal financial assistance can be obtained for both individuals and public entities in a disaster stricken area. 
 See 42 U.S.C. § 5170(a) (2016); Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.014, 418.108 (West 2016); 44 C.F.R. 42 § 206.35(b)(1) (2016); 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 7.21 (2016).
 44 C.F.R. 42 § 206.35(b)(1) (2016); 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 7.21 (2016).
 42 U.S.C. § 5191(a) (2016), Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 418.014(d)(2) (West 2016).
 See 42 USCA § 5121(b) (“it is the intent of Congress…to provide an orderly and continuing means of assistance…to State and local governments in carrying out their responsibility to alleviate the suffering and damages which result from [ ] disasters….”); 37 Tex. Admin. Code § 7.26 (2016) (“All local disaster operations will be directed by officials of the local government.”).
 Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.014(e), 418.108(c) (West 2016).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. § 418.025(a) (West 2016).
 42 U.S.C. § 5170(a) (2016); 44 C.F.R. 206.38 (2016).
 44 C.F.R. § 206.36(b) (2016).
 44 C.F.R. § 206.35(b) (2016).
 44 C.F.R. § 206.38(b) (2016).
 Tex. Gov’t Code Ann. § 418.108(d) (West 2016). See Authority of County Officials to Act in an Emergency, and Related Questions, Op. Tex. Att’y Gen. MW-140 (1980).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.018(a), 418.108(f), 418.185(b)-(c) (West 2016).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.018(c), 418.108(g) (West 2016).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.016(a), (e) (West 2016).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. §§ 418.184(a)-(b) (West 2016).
 Texas Gov’t Code Ann. § 418.021(a) (West 2016).
 John T. Gasper, The Politics of Denying Aid: An Analysis of Disaster Declaration Turndowns, 22 J. of Pub. Mgmt & Soc. Pol. 2, 6 (Sept. 2015), http://digitalscholarship.tsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=jpmsp (last accessed on Jul 19. 2016).