Firefighters in protective suits reviewing information on a mobile device
 Infrared satellite of a hurricane
A physician, nurse, or other health care worker checking information on a mobile tablet using a stylus

Welcome to U.S. Response to Disasters and Public Health Emergencies

This class provides an introduction to disaster/emergency planning and response as conducted in the United States, with an emphasis on medical response. To determine where disaster information specialists might best fit into the U.S. framework for disaster/emergency response, it is necessary to start with a shared understanding of terminology, concepts, legislation, organizations, and lessons learned from previous incidents. The class describes efforts to provide structure and order before, during, and after emergencies and disasters. Changes over time in legislation and the U.S. framework for disaster/emergency response are discussed.

This self-paced course fulfills one of the requirements of the Medical Library Association (MLA) Disaster Information Specialization, Basic Level. Students will earn three MLA Continuing Education (CE) credits. This program provides the opportunity for participants to expand their roles in providing information for disaster and emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.

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Continuing Education Credits

If you are taking this course for Medical Library Association credits, please register and complete the class through our free online registration system.

Note: After reviewing the information on this page, please be sure to complete the pre-course evaluation on the next page before continuing with the course.

Before Taking this Course

It is recommended, but not required, that you take the following courses before beginning this course:

FEMA offers many more classes on disaster and emergency preparedness and response. Many of them are online. For more information, go to to see the opportunities.

Topics Covered in this Course

This course is divided into the following sections. Use the Next and Back buttons at the bottom of the page to move through the course.

  1. Basic Terminology
  2. U.S. Response Organizations
  3. U.S. Disaster Preparedness and Response Legislation
  4. U.S. Preparedness System and Response Structure
  5. Systems for Emergency/Incident Response Management
  6. Communication Concepts and Systems
  7. Organization of Volunteers and Humanitarian Assistance
  8. Library Support for Disaster Response

Each section is a single page of content and activities that help reinforce the topics covered. For more information on additional ways to navigate the course, see the "Getting Around" section below.

Each section is summarized with key points, which are the most critical take-home messages of the material.

Throughout this course, the National Library of Medicine will be referred to using the acronym NLM and the Disaster Information Management Research Center will be called NLM Disaster Health.

Learning Objectives

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • Describe the medical response to disasters and public health emergencies in the United States, historically and currently.
  • Describe the national framework used to prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies.
  • Explain the role of the information specialist in the U.S. framework for disaster and emergency response.
  • Identify both historical and current key U.S. legislation related to disaster and emergency response.

Using this Course

Getting Around

There are a variety of ways you can navigate this training. You can:

  • Click the Back and Next buttons at the bottom of each page to move through the material
  • Use the Menu button in the upper right corner of each page to access the main sections or contact support
  • Press the LEFT and RIGHT arrow keys on your keyboard to move through the material
  • Use a combination of the above methods to explore the course contents


At the top of each page, links will indicate where the current page falls within the overall course. You can also click these links to return to this homepage or to the section that contains the page.


Throughout the course, you will encounter links. Any link denoted with an External Link icon (Exit disclaimer) points to a resource outside of this course and will typically open in a new tab or window. All other links are to other areas within the course.

Additionally, clicking on an image will open a larger view of the image in a pop-up box within the page.

Getting Help

If you need assistance using this course or have questions or comments about any of the content presented here, please select the About / Getting Help option from the upper right menu.