Disaster Assistance Medallion

Disaster Assistance

Recent hurricanes, wildfires, and other events have highlighted the challenges the federal government faces in responding effectively to natural and man-made disasters—both in terms of immediate response and for long-term recovery efforts. GAO has identified challenges and areas for improvement in disaster response and recovery, fiscal and administrative challenges in the National Flood Insurance Program, and federal preparedness and response to public health emergencies.

The United States faces public health threats from viruses (such as Zika), the intentional release of hazardous biological agents (such as anthrax), and other chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) leads federal efforts to effectively respond to these public health emergencies.

Figure: Overview of Entities Supporting Nationwide Public Health Situation Awareness

We’ve found that HHS can strengthen its ability to prepare for these types of threats. For example, it could improve coordination between federal departments and state and local governments during health emergency responses.

HHS could also ensure that the nation's health care system has "surge capacity"—that is, the ability to respond to mass casualty events and care for a sudden influx of patients with common or unusual medical needs.

Additionally, HHS could set clear priorities for developing and acquiring drugs and vaccines to respond to CBRN agents and infectious diseases. For example, the agency could establish facilities to rapidly produce drugs and vaccines during an emergency.

GAO’s Key Reports on Public Health Emergencies