The role of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in disaster relief, though controversial in some circles, is derived from historical precedent and current policy and legislation. The hierarchical structure, unique capabilities, and speed at which forces can be deployed makes DoD the federal responder of choice for many large-scale domestic and international relief missions.

Military commanders throughout history have always had some option of immediate response authority in case of disaster to prevent human loss of life, suffering, and massive destruction of property. The epitome of this authority occurred when General Frederick Funston led the response and recovery to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, with what amounted to one quarter of the army's strength at that time. Subsequently, 1917 War Department regulations allowed army units ...

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