Superstorms and Scorchers: #5 FEMA

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was called into action on several occasions this year, including the rebuilding efforts after a record-breaking drought, severe tornadoes and hurricanes. (Al Behrman/AP Photo)

Weather catastrophes cost North America about $1,060 billion from 1980 to 2011. Even in nonelection years, those kinds of dollars get folks debating the role of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The timing of Superstorm Sandy a week before the 2012 presidential election raised fundamental questions in the case for and against FEMA: Why so many needy states? Do people fail to take personal responsibility?

If anything, this top 10 list is a reminder that it's tough to forecast when and where funds will be needed. That's why nonprofit advocate GuideStar's top tip is to be proactive, not reactive.

"Relief organizations can't wait until donations start coming in to respond to a disaster—they have to get to the scene as quickly as possible," the GuideStar website says. "By giving to a general relief fund, you give the organization the ability to use your donation where and when it is most needed."

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