We are privately owned and not affiliated or endorsed by any government agency.

Take the Benefits Quiz

Emergency support functions (ESFs)

Definition Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) is a term used in military operations, particularly in emergency response, to describe a series of 15 specific capabilities that design agencies responsible for coordinating efforts to manage disasters or incidents. These functions include transport, communications, public works and engineering, firefighting, and medical services, among others. ESFs form a key […]


Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) is a term used in military operations, particularly in emergency response, to describe a series of 15 specific capabilities that design agencies responsible for coordinating efforts to manage disasters or incidents. These functions include transport, communications, public works and engineering, firefighting, and medical services, among others. ESFs form a key part of the National Response Framework, providing the structure for coordinated federal assistance in response to disasters and emergencies.

Key Takeaways

  1. Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) are key components in the National Response Framework established by FEMA to guide military and disaster response work. They help in structuring and organizing disaster response efforts to ensure a robust and extensive coverage of all areas of concern.
  2. ESFs describe a range of response actions, with each ESF describing various tasks that need to be performed by response teams in the event of emergency. These include transportation, communication, public works and engineering, firefighting, information and planning, mass care, resource support, public health and medical services, search and rescue, oil and hazardous materials response, agriculture and natural resources, energy, public safety and security, long-term community recovery, and the external affairs.
  3. Each ESF is typically composed of a team of agencies and organizations that have significant expertise in their respective areas. This can include both governmental and non-governmental organizations, who share their respective resources and capabilities to operate within a collaborative response model.


Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) are key elements in the military operations lexicon as they provide a robust set of procedures and systems for supporting domestic incident management.

These structural protocols are significant as they promote effective organization, synchronization, and utilization of resources during emergency situations such as natural disasters, terrorism, or other domestic incidents.

They essentially create a systematic and coordinated approach amongst governmental agencies, organizations, and the military to ensure prompt response, recovery, and mitigation efforts.

Such predefined roles and responsibilities serve to optimize collaborative results, minimize confusion during crises, ensure timely delivery of necessary aid, protect the population, and restore infrastructure and normality expediently.

Hence, ESFs are crucial frameworks for maintaining public safety, managing crises, and bolstering national resilience.


Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) play a pivotal role in delivering critical resources, support, and services during a time of crisis or in response to a disaster event that affects a nation’s infrastructure. Their main purpose is to streamline the assistance provided during emergencies by grouping capabilities and resources into distinct categories. Each ESF corresponds to a specific aspect of disaster response like transportation, communication, firefighting, etc.

The fundamental objective behind the concept of ESFs is to ensure that all areas that require attention following a disaster are efficiently managed and controlled in an organized manner to quickly stabilize the situation and prevent any further damage. The ESFs are used to assign responsibilities to disaster response operations. For instance, while one ESF might be responsible for coordinating efforts to restore power to affected areas, another might be charged with overseeing medical care and public health issues arising from the crisis.

By organizing resources into these functional areas, ESFs ensure a structured response, reducing duplication of efforts, and allowing for a more efficient use of resources. Each ESF is led by a Federal agency or department with significant authorities, resources, skills, capabilities in a specific functional area. This promotes effective cooperation among responding entities, resulting in a quicker and more thorough response and recovery process.

Examples of Emergency support functions (ESFs)

Hurricane Katrina (2005): In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, several ESF plans were initiated by the U.S. Government to manage the crisis situation. This involved ESF #1 – Transportation, responsible for coordinating the evacuation plans and restoring the transport system; ESF #6 – Mass Care, Housing, and Human Services, to address immediate sheltering, feeding, and other needs of affected individuals; and ESF #15 – External Affairs, which provided accurate, coordinated, and timely information to affected areas.

California Wildfires (2018): In the devastating wildfires in California, ESFs were again implemented. ESF #4 – Firefighting, was activated to coordinate all firefighting activities; ESF #3 – Public Works and Engineering, to help in debris removal, temporary emergency power and other infrastructure related tasks; and ESF #8 – Public Health and Medical Services, which provided health, medical and mortuary services.

COVID-19 Response (2020): During the global COVID-19 pandemic, ESFs were used worldwide to secure a coordinated response. In the United States, ESF #8 – Public Health and Medical Services, was implemented to manage disease control, patient care, and vaccination deployment. ESF #14 – Cross-Sector Business and Infrastructure, was also enacted to ensure the continuity of business and services essential to the community.

FAQs for Military Operations: Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)

1. What are Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)?

Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) are a category of response assets, groups, or divisions that handle specific kinds of tasks during emergency situations. They form a cornerstone of the National Response Framework of many countries and provide support, resources, and expertise in their respective fields during emergencies.

2. How many ESFs exist and what are they dedicated to?

The number of ESFs can vary depending on the nation’s specific requirements. Typically, they range from 15 to 20 different ESFs, each dedicated to a specific responsibility such as transportation, communication, firefighting, emergency management, medical services, and others.

3. Who is in charge of coordinating ESFs during an emergency situation?

The responsibility for coordinating ESFs usually falls on the local, regional, or national emergency management agency of the country. They collaborate with other government departments, agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to ensure a coordinated and effective response.

4. How are ESFs activated?

ESFs are activated when there’s an incident that requires a coordinated response. Depending on the scale and nature of the emergency, some or all ESFs may be activated. On request, ESF primary and support agencies provide available resources, capabilities, and expertise to assist with the response.

5. What is the role of an ESF during an emergency?

The primary role of an ESF is to offer its specific expertise and coordinate efforts in its designated function during an emergency. Depending on the nature of the emergency, this could involve various duties such as liaising with relevant agencies, coordinating resources, providing relevant information, and implementing specific interventions.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Disaster Response Coordination
  • Emergency Medical Support
  • Emergency Sheltering Assistance
  • Public Health Crisis Management
  • Critical Infrastructure Protection
  • Sources for More Information

    • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency): FEMA oversees the federal government’s response plan to natural disasters and other emergencies and plays a major role in emergency support functions.
    • Ready.gov: Part of the Department of Homeland Security, Ready.Gov offers detailed advice on preparedness during a range of emergencies, including information on emergency support functions.
    • Department of Homeland Security: The DHS is responsible for U.S. security, including disaster responses and emergency preparedness, making it a valuable resource for information on emergency support functions.
    • The National Academic Press: The NAP publishes peer-reviewed research on a broad variety of subjects, including emergency management and emergency support functions.

    Benefits.com Advisors

    With expertise spanning local, state, and federal benefit programs, our team is dedicated to guiding individuals towards the perfect program tailored to their unique circumstances.

    Rise to the top with Peak Benefits!

    Join our Peak Benefits Newsletter for the latest news, resources, and offers on all things government benefits.

    Related Articles