In addition to his regular authorities, the HHS Secretary may be authorized or directed to take other actions when the President declares a major disaster or an emergency under the Robert T. Stafford Act or an emergency under the National Emergencies Act.
The President may declare a major disaster under the Stafford Act when a natural catastrophe (i.e., hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.) or, regardless of cause, any fire, flood, or explosion causes damage that in the determination of the President is of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant major disaster assistance to supplement the efforts and available resources of states, local governments, and disaster relief organizations in alleviating the damage, loss, hardship, or suffering caused thereby. The Stafford Act also authorizes the President to declare an emergency when, in the determination of the President, federal assistance is needed to supplement state and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe.
The Stafford Act authorizes a multitude of Federal agency actions in response to a major disaster or emergency, such as the following:
- Issuance of warnings
- Mobilization of emergency support teams
- Authorization of federal use of state and local government services and facilities
- Hiring temporary personnel
- Limiting liability of volunteer health care professionals to the laws of the State to which the provider has been deployed to respond to the disaster or emergency and in which care is provided
- Distributing food, medicine, and supplies
- Coordinating with private sector disaster relief organizations
- Overseeing mass feeding
- Coordinating hazard mitigation
- Use, donation, or lending of federal equipment, supplies, facilities, or personnel to state and local governments*
- Provide crisis counseling (only in response to a major disaster)
The President may also declare a National Emergency under the National Emergencies Act, specifying which statutory authorities available for use in an emergency will be exercised.