Skip Navigation

Federal Public Health and Medical Services Response

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 a “Federal Disaster Response” is requested by the Governor of a state, support is provided by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with the search and rescue, electrical power, food, water, shelter and other basic human needs.

Federal Public Health and Medical Emergency Response

Under the National Response Framework (NRF) HHS is authorized to act as the primary Federal response agency for “public health and medical emergencies” in the following instances:

  • When the State Governor deems that State, Tribal and local resources are insufficient to cover all public health needs
  • When the State Governor deems that State, Tribal and local public health or medical authorities are overwhelmed, and Federal assistance has been requested by the appropriate authorities
  • When the law specifies that the Federal government has the lead responsibility
  • When a Federal department or agency acting under its own authority has requested the assistance of HHS

To respond to the conditions listed above the Secretary of HHS can take a number of actions, including the following:

  • Declare a Public Health Emergency
  • Take steps to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases into or throughout the United States
  • Conduct or support research into the cause, treatment, or prevention of a disease or disorder
  • Coordinate the provision of emergency public health and medical services
  • Direct the deployment of officers of the Public Health Service in support of public health and medical operations

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 for implementation of a Federal public health and medical services response