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Disaster Response Partnerships and MOUs

While disaster response begins locally, specific response and recovery efforts vary depending on a disaster’s scope and nature. Responding efficiently and effectively to disasters requires partnership and coordination with many organizations. It is important for local emergency management officials and volunteer coordinators to have pre-established partnerships inside and outside of the community to ensure an efficient and effective response for all involved. These partnerships enable a community to use all of their available assets to  prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters.

Partnership Development

Collaboration is a strong tool in disaster response and recovery. Effective emergency response plans and emergency responses rely on collaboration between community partners. Strong and efficient partnerships are critical to disaster response because they enhance the community’s overall response capability.

Partnerships are key for disaster risk reduction. Each partner brings essential and unique information to the forefront that should be considered during the planning phase. By understanding and incorporating the future trends in population growth, urbanization, and environmental risk factors into the planning phase, organizations can reduce harm during a disaster. In addition, the needs of the community in the immediate aftermath of a disaster typically require more resources than can be provided by local emergency responders and volunteers alone. Community partners can supply the additional resources to aide in the immediate response and long-term recovery. Strong disaster management practices include core partnerships with emergency management, law enforcement, public safety, public and mental health, the local government, and non-profit organizations.

Coordinating with partners in advance allows communities to identify available resources and problem-solve in a way that is practical. Mobilizing partnerships during a disaster will be most effective when partners have been included in the planning process, have established roles and responsibilities, and have participated in exercises with  your agency/organization. 

Tips for Partnership Development

Identify partners and include them in the planning process. 

Remember your community is unique. Be sure to identify specific needs or gaps within your community before developing an outreach plan. It will be helpful to consider all potential hazards and their identified associated risks. This can be done by completing or reviewing the Hazard Vulnerability Assessment (HVA) for your jurisdiction. By working with partners during the planning process, potential problems can be identified, mitigated, and prevented.

Establish the purpose of each partnership and decide on a common goal. 

Understanding the mission and capabilities of each partner will be helpful in determining a purpose and common goal. It is important to understand how the partnership will solve challenges and enhance strengths when developing a purpose and goal for the partnership.

Establish roles and responsibilities for each partner.

This allows each partner to know and plan for what is expected of them during a disaster response. 

Maintain regular communication.

Include a communication plan so all partners know when and how to communicate during a response. It is also important to communicate all plan changes, trainings, and exercises to partners. Communication with your partners may be in the form of email, newsletter, and/or regular meetings.

Include partners in training and exercises.

Including partners in your training and exercise planning is an essential part of a successful a response. These activities ensure all those involved in the response are trained and ready to respond when a disaster strikes. These activities also allow for potential issues to be identified and mitigated prior to a disaster response. Also, consider using online resources and communication channels to include partners that are not available to participate in-person.

Developing a Disaster-Specific Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

A Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) is a tool that can be used to formalize partnership agreements between two or more partners. An MOU is especially desirable when partners want to mark a mutually beneficial partnership or want to outline the mutual goals of a partnership. While an MOU is not legally binding, it does clearly outline the parties to which it pertains, define its scope, and detail each partner’s roles and responsibilities. In addition, the MOU increases communication and transparency among partners.

A Disaster-Specific MOU establishes an agreement to collaborate, communicate, respond, and support one another before, during, and after an incident. Disaster-Specific MOUs should focus on the resources and disaster specific needs required of the parties involved during disaster response and recovery operations. Disaster-Specific MOUs also typically address understandings related to the incident command structure, resource management, processes and policies related to requesting and sharing personnel, equipment and consumable resources, as well as any payment arrangements. 

Considerations for Developing a Disaster-Specific MOU


The purpose identifies the parties who are entering into the agreement. The agreement content and a brief statement of the general commitments should be included.. This section should not address specific details of the agreement.


The background briefly states the rationale for pursuing the disaster-specific MOU. The need for working together should be specifically identified. Existing MOUs that need to be referenced should be identified in this section. The background should not include details of past efforts, lessons learned, or how the level of agreement was reached. 


This section identifies when a partner is a lead agency or supporting agency based on the mission and capabilities of the agency. This section should also describe the Incident Command Structure implemented during disaster response and recovery.

Commitments of Agencies

The commitments of agencies outlines the obligations of the partners. Commitments related to sharing of information and providing resources during a disaster  should be included in the MOU. This section should also detail communication timelines between agencies.


The duration explains how long the MOU applies to each agency during a disaster. These timelines should be generalized and based on the mission of each agency and whether they are response or recovery focused. 


Amendments allow agencies to make changes, as needed, to the MOU during the disaster recovery process.


This section allows each agency to terminate the MOU, steps to be taken prior to a termination should be included. The process for termination by an agency if an agreement cannot be reached should also be included.

Issue Evaluation

This section outlines a process to resolve interagency disputes related to the implementation of the MOU.


This section provides additional resources relevant to the MOU. These resources should include definitions, point of contact information, and a brief agency description. When determining what appendices to include consider the information that has been referenced but not explained in the MOU. 


This section should be signed by the appropriate agency authority to indicate official authorization and date for the MOU.

Incorporating community organizations and disaster relief agencies into your emergency response plans augments the community’s response capabilities. Partnerships should be reviewed and evaluated periodically and after disaster response.This will assure identified gaps are addressed in the most efficient and effective way for all involved in disaster response and recovery. Strong partnerships build a more resilient community by allowing a community to respond as efficiently and effectively as possible.


Disaster Specific MOU. (n.d.). Retrieved June 14, 2019

Engaging Faith-based and Community Organizations. (2018, June). Retrieved June 14, 2019

U.S. Department of Education. (2007). Tapping into Non-traditional Community Partners for Emergency Management. ERCMExpress,3(1), 1-8. Retrieved June 14, 2019

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