An emergency requires an immediate response to a life-threatening situation. It is usually local and specific, affecting one building, for example, or even just one person. A disaster, on the other hand, is widespread, affecting many people and large areas.
The distinction that matters most to the average citizen is that in an emergency, the normal government emergency response services are available while in a disaster they probably won’t be. So if my house is on fire, it’s an emergency, and I should call 911 for help. But in the case of a disaster such as a major earthquake, which affects not just my house but potentially many homes, the normal emergency response services such as fire departments and ambulances may not be available.
On the governmental level, a “state of emergency” usually allows the executive (president, governor, or mayor) to alter administrative procedures. So in case of a natural disaster, the governor may declare a state of emergency to more effectively deal with the problem at hand.
Declaring a “disaster area” usually enables the use of extra funds to deal with the results of a widespread disaster, such as a tornado, hurricane, flood, or earthquake.
Being prepared for a disaster means being equipped to take care of yourself and your loved ones for at least 72 hours without the benefit of normal emergency services such as fire and ambulance.
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