An Overview of the FEMA National Advisory Council

A question I get asked frequently is, “What does the National Advisory Council do?” Which is almost always followed up with, “What do you like about it? How can I become a member?”

Truth be told, these have become my favorite conversations over the years.

Going into my fifth year as a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Advisory Council (NAC), the excitement of researching and recommending potential solutions to emergency management’s biggest challenges, never wanes. I am just as passionate and eager to participate on the NAC as I was on the first day.

As the newly appointed Chair, and first-ever woman to lead the NAC as Chairperson, I hope that I can inspire other leaders in emergency management to apply and get involved.

So, what is the NAC, anyway?

In 2006, right on the heels of the lessons gleaned from Hurricane Katrina, Congress directed the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish the FEMA NAC, a statutory committee. Created to advise the FEMA Administrator on all aspects of emergency management, the NAC is comprised of 40 appointed members, each representing a geographically diverse cross-section of officials, emergency managers, and emergency response providers from state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations. Each member is appointed to a 3-year term, and when taken together, they help ensure that FEMA receives input from a diverse group of experts.

To the extent practical, the Administrator selects members from the following disciplines:

· Emergency Management

· Emergency Response Providers

· Health Scientists

· Emergency Medical Providers

· In-Patient Medical Providers

· Public Health

· Standards Setting and Accrediting

· Non-Elected State, Local, and Tribal Government Officials

· Elected State, Local, and Tribal Government Officials

· Infrastructure Protection

· Cybersecurity

· Communications

· Disabilities, and Access and Functional Needs

· Climate Change

· Administrator Selections

· Ex Officio

Ok, so what does the NAC do?

The most important role of the NAC is the delivery of an annual report to the FEMA Administrator. The report includes recommendations that FEMA considers for implementation within their programs.

Once delivered, the Office of the National Advisory Council works with the FEMA program offices to coordinate FEMA’s response to the recommendations. Responses are delivered typically within three months of receiving the NAC recommendations and are made available to the public.

How do the recommendations get identified for inclusion in the report?

Great question.

At the onset of the year, the Administrator provides the NAC with focused tasks, which the NAC then uses as the framework to organize by subcommittee. This year, the NAC’s subcommittees are Climate, Readiness, and Workforce.

FEMA may also establish ad hoc subcommittees to work and report on specific issues for a limited period, and Congress may establish subcommittees under the NAC should the need arise.

After receiving the tasks from the Administrator, each subcommittee identifies topics of inquiry and interest related to the tasks and they begin researching potential solutions to recommend. To do this, the NAC leverages traditional fact-finding methods which may include literature review, program and policy reviews, and subject matter expert presentations. Subcommittees meet virtually, and on a monthly basis.

In addition to ongoing research, the NAC meets in a public session at least once per year to provide advice to the Administrator, typically around the same time the annual report is finalized. During this public meeting, the NAC deliberates on the recommendations brought forward by the subcommittees, and then formally votes to approve the recommendations with or without amendments, to be included in the annual report.

What do you like about being on the NAC? How can people get involved?

You’ll often hear me say that being a member of the NAC is a highlight of my career, if for no other reason then I get the opportunity to learn from fellow members. Each member is an expert in their field, often nationally renowned, and I personally value every minute I get to spend with them. Our conversations give me an opportunity think and explore topics that are the most complex and challenging for the industry to solve. The ability to intentionally set aside time to innovate and problem solve is what I appreciate the most – and frankly, is a welcomed break from the daily grind.

The NAC also influences program and policy changes, at the national level, and the results of those changes are tangible improvements that we all get to witness. For example, in 2020, the NAC recommended changes to the Individual Assistance program, imploring FEMA to revisit the requirements for homeowners to provide proof of ownership after a declared disaster. The NAC’s recommendation focused on issues of equity and lowering the burden on disaster survivors; and within weeks, FEMA implemented the recommendation, directly impacting thousands of homeowners the following year.

Seeing improvements being made to programs and policies that impact disaster survivors is rewarding and fulfilling. It’s an amazing motivator to keep going.

One-third of the NAC members end their terms each year, which means, there is an annual application period managed by the Office of the National Advisory Council. Application requirements and deadlines are published on the FEMA website, and can be found here.

The role of the NAC Chair

As the Chair, my role is to ensure that the NAC stays within their lane of responsibility, and that the recommendations are strategic and focused on FEMA’s mission. I also work with the Office of the National Advisory Council’s Designated Federal Officer to ensure that every member is assigned to a subcommittee, and together, we coordinate with subcommittee leadership to make sure their research and fact-finding is productive and successful.

In addition to the role of Chair, the NAC leadership team is comprised of a Vice Chair, Secretary, as well as subcommittee chair and vice chairs. As a team, we lead the NAC to develop and deliver a set of recommendations that are intended to shape the future of emergency management.


Carrie Speranza, CEM, is a renowned emergency management and homeland security executive with 19 years of diverse sector experience and currently serves as Esri’s Director of Emergency Management Solutions. Acknowledged for her robust organizational leadership, she serves as Vice Chair of FEMA’s National Advisory Council and holds a peer-elected position on the IAEM Board of Directors. Additionally, she advises the Private-Sector Emergency Management Association (PSEMA) and was honored as a 2021 IAEM-USA Region 3 Top 40 Under 40 recipient.

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