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No FEMA Response

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A cousin trope to No OSHA Compliance.

In the real world, when some horrible disaster happens, humanitarian aid generally pours in to the area. In the United States, these efforts are (in theory) coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or "FEMA" for short, hence the trope name. It may not be effective for whatever reason, but people try to help.

Not so in fiction, where earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and stranger events are avoided or outright cordoned off by the outside world and the survivors are left to fend for themselves. This seems especially prevalent in Japanese fiction, as it appears that nation has zero confidence in the stability of the social order — the slightest accident on the street will inevitably lead to people cracking each others' skulls open to feast on the goo inside. This goes double if it's a Go Nagai production. Very confusing since historical evidence is that Japanese social order can and will survive everything nature, modern warfare and terrorism can throw at it.

This covers isolated disasters ignored by the outside world, not conditions where the entire fabric of civilization has been destroyed by global-scale events. A Lampshade Hanging of this trope as the first clue that a disaster extends beyond the purely local scale is such a common narrative device that it's very nearly a sub-trope.

Note that this can sadly be very much Truth in Television, mostly in isolated areas the world doesn't pay much attention to, where civilization is less organized.

See also Government-Exploited Crisis, when FEMA is actually the villain. Compare Militaries Are Useless and Police Are Useless.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Somewhat justified in AKIRA: by the time major humanitarian aid efforts are on their way to Neo-Tokyo, Tetsuo and his followers have already organized the survivors into the Great Akira Empire, a militantly isolationist cult who attack the relief workers. In the manga they come back after the Great Akira Empire collapses, and Kaneda states that they are welcome in the Great Tokyo Empire, it's the US soldiers with them and anyone trying to assert authority of the Japanese government over them that they are hostile to.
  • Near the end of Cross Ange, Embryo severs the Mana network, causing the World of Mana to begin collapsing and the now suddenly Mana-less citizens to panic. Of course, considering how the Norma were given no safety as part of being treated as less than human, it's kind of easy to see this as Laser-Guided Karma for the majority of the mana people.
  • In Scryed, the Lost Ground has been placed under the jurisdiction of HOLY, which doesn't seem to care about civilizing the area in any way other than getting Alter Users under their control.
  • The combination of an earthquake and a surge in demonic activity causes a large chunk of Tokyo to become a lawless danger zone in Demon City Shinjuku.
  • Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is an Aversion. The anime is about how to deal with a post-earthquake condition.
  • Averted in Uzumaki, where relief is quick to come in once news about the weird shit going on in town reaches the outside world. The problem comes when whirlpools form in the harbor and sink all the ships, and any attempts to get into or out of town run headlong into the roads following entirely different paths.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: No Man's Land: After two outbreaks of a horrific genetically engineered plague virus are followed by a devastating earthquake that smashes Gotham City flat, the government (influenced by covert supervillain activity) decides that any further aid and reconstruction would just be throwing good money after bad and orders the city evacuated and left to rot. Anyone refusing to leave is no longer their problem. Gotham is left to the mercies of the Arkham inmates, criminal organizations, and street gangs for over a year, and the government actually goes so far as to declare Gotham to no longer be part of the American territory (something that's not possible under the US Constitution) and shot down any attempts to bring relief aid to the people who insisted on staying!
    • And Metropolis, a city that had similarly been extensively damaged by Lex Luthor shortly before, was fixed magically (by GOTHAM NATIVE Zatanna the Magician) but nothing was done to restore Gotham (until, ironically, Luthor paid for the repairs to get the publicity that got him elected President).
  • Apocalypse Nerd by Peter Bagge, which is a darkly satirical portrayal of North Korea nuking Seattle. There's no real attempt at help from the federal government until a year after the attack, leaving the nerdy main character to try and survive amidst Apocalypse Anarchy of the highest order, including survivors killing eachother over resources, killing eachother to eat their bodies, or just killing eachother for the hell of it.

    Fan Works 
  • Played with in A Better Class of Criminal, being based on the No Man's Land story above. Disaster relief does show up within a couple of days, but later dries up as the costs of restoring Gotham are calculated, and the No Man's Land decree still happens. However, thanks to Bookworm's magical abilities, as well as about 12 hours advance warning before the earthquake hit, No Man's Land unfolds slightly differently, with less fatalities and more resources to draw on afterwards.
  • Averted in Wilhuff Tarkin, Hero of the Rebellion, where Tarkin bringing relief to Tatooine during a planet-wide drought and both having Jabba's water tax collectors exposed to die of dessication and discovering Luke are plot points.
  • Averted in ''The Outbreak. Due to Felicity's actions, the team fails to contain the Alpha and Omega virus. Oliver at one point explicitly states that the government has declared a state of emergency, and FEMA is providing as much relief as they can.

  • Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Raccoon City is sealed off and the inhabitants left to die to prevent the T-Virus from escaping. It doesn't work.
  • Outbreak: The city was quarantined, and the plan was to drop a Fuel Air Bomb on it to stop the infection from spreading.
  • The Crazies (2010): The movie has the first city cordoned off and Fuel Air Bombed. Worse, they made everybody think they were evac'ing, when they really were just herding them into trucks to burn them alive. Survivors made it to another city which was then targeted for the same treatment.
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: In the aftermath of the Simian Flu outbreak, FEMA was too overwhelmed from working to contain the virus and they were presumably disbanded when the U.S. government shut down indefinitely. The specifics of FEMA's fate is never detailed as they vanished before the events of the film when the San Francisco survivors needed them. The viewer can interpret what has happened to FEMA, be it that they were infected with the flu as well or were robbed, looted and killed by rioters because of the flu.
  • In Day of the Dead (2008), the Army cordons off the town, and all phone and cellphone service is cut off.
  • 28 Days Later: While society has pretty much entirely collapsed in Great Britain, the outbreak had not spread outside of the British Isles due to the very short period between infection and full on Rage. Granted, it has only been less than a month, and other governments may have still been trying to figure out how to help, assuming that their first aid missions weren't overrun or driven out by the spreading outbreak but Sergeant Farrel theorizes that they've simply been quarantined.
    • 28 Weeks Later reveals that there were a large number of refugee camps in Europe, so at the very least Britain's nearest neighbours were probably pulling uninfected civilians out of the ports or off the beaches.
  • Super 8: An alien has gotten loose in a town. Rather than try for a covert operation or even "try" to save any of the several people who have already been kidnapped by it, the government evacuates the town and initiates "Walking Distance ", a.k.a., "burning the town to the ground". They don't check if everyone is out, or even try to stop people coming back in.
  • The Dark Knight Rises justifies it. Bane has a nuclear bomb powerful enough to level the city, and threatens to detonate it if anyone enters or leaves Gotham (though delivering supplies is allowed). The government has no choice but to enforce this.
  • Averted in Night of the Living Dead (1968). Government establishes safe havens and rescue operations almost immediately, but the characters are trapped in a remote area and cannot initially agree on whether to take the risk of traveling to the nearest shelter.

  • This is initially subverted in No Safety in Numbers, with the authorities trying to supply the quarantined shoppers with food, medicine and other supplies. Once they realize how deadly the virus is, however, they play it straight and seal off the mall so as to let the virus burn itself out.
  • The government tries to do this in Arnette, Texas in Stephen King's The Stand. However, due to the communicable nature of the superflu, they realize that containment became impossible "as soon as Campion bought his first take-out hamburger."
  • Used as a plot point in the original The Day of the Triffids, as well as the first TV adaptation. The major conflict in the first third of the book is between one faction of survivors who were trying desperately to hold things together in central London and keep the victims of the blindness plague alive until some official relief effort turned up, and another group who'd realised that there wasn't going to be one and that the able-bodied should get out while the going was good. The second group turns out to be right, and the first faction's desperate attempt to keep as many blinded and helpless people alive as possible for as long as possible was all for nothing. Just because it's a Cosy Catastrophe doesn't mean it can't be pretty bleak at times.
  • Without Warning: Justified in that FEMA is gone, as is the rest of the federal government, and all America save Seattle, Hawaii, Alaska, the base on Cuba, and bases and forces overseas.
  • Subverted in Ashfall, but in a horrifying way: Instead of helping people, FEMA restricts the movement of refugees, and their camps operate more like concentration camps rather than refugee camps. To make matters worse, they execute non-compliant individuals by locking them up in doghouses and subjecting them to starvation diets. This is done because apparently it's easier to just say that they died from exposure to the elements rather than straight up admit to murdering them. Darla and Alex escape when the former offers to be a prostitute for the utterly corrupt captain of the FEMA camp, then takes her opportunity to steal a bulldozer and break open the doghouse that Alex is locked away in.
  • Played with in Star Wars Legends, at least when the Old Republic is concerned, as at times the Republic would play it straight and other times it would instead send relief. One case of the latter ended up starting a scandal when the Jedi found that a baby they had rescued was a Force sensitive with no family left and took her in, only for the mother to turn out alive and demand her child back right after they had opened her mind to the Force and it was just too dangerous for anyone but trained Force sensitives to raise her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Gotham: After Gotham's bridges are destroyed and the city is cut off from the mainland, Jim Gordon has to do an insane amount of haggling to get any kind of relief airlifted in. And even that attempt gets derailed by Bane and his mercenary army.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Plays a part in Kirk's Dark and Troubled Past, as elaborated on in "The Conscience of the King". The Colony of Tarsus IV was hit by a plague, and it looked like relief ships weren't coming, so the colony's governor, a man called Kodos, started enacting a mass purge based on who he felt had the best chance of survival. Then the relief ships showed up, just a little later. Kodos appeared to commit suicide rather than face justice, but actually went into hiding. The episode is about him being found out, and he insists that if the ships hadn't shown up, he'd have been hailed as a hero, not a butcher.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Shadowrun supplement Bug City. After insect spirits are discovered infesting Chicago and possessing its citizens, most of the city is sealed off to prevent them from escaping. Later editions Retcon it somewhat in that FEMA was on scene to help with the quarantine, extermination, and cleanup.

    Video Games 
  • Devil Survivor features the Yamanote Circle, a vast swathe of Tokyo's shopping district, cordoned off by military forces ordered to kill anyone trying to escape the blackout zone. Partly justified by the government's advance knowledge of events that are soon to take place and their attempts to keep the released demon-summoning technology from spreading to the rest of the world, and then fully justified when it's revealed that the angels were the ones who told them to lock down the circle, and have them under threat of heavenly retribution if they refuse.
    • Slightly justified in Devil Survivor 2, where the government has much bigger things to worry about than an earthquake, such as an invasion of Eldritch Abominations. And the fact that by the time they have anything under control enough to spare men and materiel for disaster relief, everything outside a small handful of cities has been swallowed up into an empty void.
  • Averted in the Left 4 Dead series. There was a governmental response from a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of FEMA, "CEDA", that tried to help as best it could with what limited information there was about the Green Flu at the start of the outbreak, but the infection grew out of hand far too quickly for them to handle, and thus the military began to resort to more extreme measuresnote . The campaigns occasionally feature the remains of CEDA checkpoints, evacuation centers and other remnants of the initial response that was eventually overrun.
  • After the opening destruction in the video game inFAMOUS the government occasionally drops food and medical supplies, but no personnel enter the area, and there are groups of soldiers with authorization to use deadly force on anyone attempting to leave the city. Partially justified in that some unknown and deadly plague has infected a goodly amount of the citizenry.
  • Subverted in the Deus Ex series. There is a FEMA organization that exists, but there's a twist; it just doesn't do what people expect them to do. Mainly, they maintain the fictional equivalent of CIA black sites. Among other things, it's directly and intentionally responsible for the disaster it's supposed to be managing, and actively trying to make it worse.
  • The original premise of I Am Alive was that a massive earthquake in Chicago coincides with mass water shortages worldwide, so no early rescue teams arrived at the city. Subverted in the finished game with the Event, a cataclysmic series of disasters so widespread and destructive that it not only hindered relief efforts but also effectively destroyed almost all semblance of civilized order within a year after it began. This in turn left the survivors to fend for themselves.
  • Justified in [PROTOTYPE]. Blackwatch places the entire island of Manhattan under strict quarantine and will destroy anyone attempting to leave the island; in this situation, it's unlikely they would allow humanitarian aid to enter.
  • Averted in Dead Island which has everything from the Australian Biological Institute setting up quarantine zones and medical stations to the Banoi Island Defense Force working with Australian special forces to contain the outbreak.
  • In the early Resident Evil games, Raccoon City was cordoned off by the military and basically left to fend for itself until the government finally went ahead and cratered the place with high-yield warheads.
  • Both averted and played straight in This War of Mine. Many people were evacuated at the start of the war, but many, including your group of survivors, missed the last evacuation and the fighting prevents the delivery of humanitarian aid or any further evacuations.
  • In The Bottom of the Well, it may initially appear like thus, but it's just an (understandable) delay — the authorities aren't on hand immediately, but they do show up. For example, there will be vigilantes-slash-looters blocking a bridge if Alice gets there early, but if she gets there later (or can afford to wait), the military will run them off. If Alice survives long enough, there's an evacuation centre where people are treated — although they can't do much for people who've already received too much radiation, which (depending on player choice) may or may not include Alice.
  • Averted in the Pokémon Fan Game Pokémon Uranium: whenever a meltdown threatens the well-being of citizens, the Rangers immediately leap into action to evacuate the area.
  • Averted in The Division, with the Catastrophic Emergency Response Agency helping to distribute aid to quarantined areas following the Green Poison outbreak. However, the casualties they sustain following the collapse of social order in Manhattan mean that any remaining personnel are now working directly for the JTF by the time of the game's events.
  • Bizarrely used in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: there are three cities that you're not supposed to access before the plot sends you there, but they can easily be reached anyway. The in-game excuse is that there are earthquake warnings (which makes sense, as San Andreas is named for California's San Andreas Fault), but it's hard to believe this warrants an instant four-star wanted level (just short of SWAT teams and the FBI deploying to stop you).
  • Far Cry 5 takes place in a county in Montana which a doomsday cult has managed to take over and lock down as their private kingdom. The only authorities sent in are a US Marshall, the local Sheriff and several of his deputies (one of which is the player), all of whom end up being trapped in Hope County and either joining the local resistance or are made prisoners of the cult. It's implied that the reason that authorities haven't gotten through is because the cult have infiltrated emergency response as well as the fact that they possess blackmail material on the US President.
  • Averted in ARMA 3, in which the International Development & Aid Project (IDAP) relief workers immediately pouring in on Altis & Stratis after Operation Eastwind to provide humanitarian support for the affected and aiding in reconstruction efforts. The Laws of War DLC campaign even revolves on an EOD technician worker doing a clean up on a war-torn village while recounting some of IDAP activities on the islands before NATO takeover.

    Web Original 
  • Kurzgesagt explains that this would happen after a nuclear bomb gets detonated in a major city.
    There will be no help, not for hours, or maybe even days. Civilization doesn't operate when there's a total breakdown of infrastructure. Roads are blocked, train tracks warped, runways cluttered with rubble. No water, no electricity, no communication, no stores to replenish supplies from. Help from surrounding cities will have a hard time entering the disaster zone, and even if they can, the radioactive contamination will make it risky to get too close. After a nuclear attack, you're on your own.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Boondocks episode "Invasion of the Katrinians", the Freeman family's distant relatives in New Orleans move into their house after Hurricane Katrina and stay there for the next 3 months (although Katrina lasted only 8 days) because they refuse to leave until FEMA sends them a welfare check.
  • In Brickleberry, the episode "The Dam Show" involves the main cast and many other people stranded on an uncharted island thanks to Firecracker Jim blowing up a dam that gets them washed up there. It's actually inverted as near the end of the episode, a FEMA officer does show up with a boat ready to go and take them home. Woody and the rest of the people celebrate that they won't go hungry after all..... camera pan to the FEMA guy hogtied and being roasted in a barbecue by Woody.
  • Parodied in South Park, the episode "2 Days Before the Day After Tomorrow", people are impacted hard by a flood caused by Stan when he and Cartman crashed his boat into a beaver dam. FEMA doesn't even show up as they're too afraid to risk going through all that global warming.
  • In Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Scrambled Ed", the Cul-de-sac gets flooded thanks to Ed and Eddy unknowingly blocking their town's river mid-way with heavy material they planned to use to build a marine animal theme park (it was intended to be a SeaWorld knock-off). Because Adults Are Useless in this show, no one comes to rescue the kids who are stuck on wood rafts suffering from heat stroke and hunger, with the exception of Nazz, who's shown stuck inside her house underneath the water, and can't get out without drowning. Roll the credits!
  • In the animated series spin-off of Friday, in one of the episodes where a flood hit a predominantly African-American town, federal rescue teams pick up the only white man they could find and call it a day.
  • Averted in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where the Republic sends relief to a planet devastated by a groundquake while engaged in the galaxy-spanning Clone Wars.

    Real Life 
  • Zig-Zagged with what happened after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. FEMA itself failed to mount a coordinated response, but private corporations and regular citizens did organize relief efforts.
  • In a case that dwarfs Katrina, the Pakistani response to the devastating 1970 Bhola cyclone in what was then known as East Pakistan was so mishandled that it became one of the contributing factors to the Bangladeshi Liberation War the following year. Yes, this trope set off a revolution.