Early America was built by neighbor helping neighbor, especially in times of trouble. But when the good neighbor you hope will be there to help is the federal government, sometimes the wait is long and the help may not come at all.

As Republican governors urge less federal interference with states and the new GOP Congress touts the benefits of smaller government, it makes sense to move emergency relief during disasters away from federal control.That was the recommendation of a bipartisan task force of House members who want to convice Americans to take more of a role in planning ahead for possible disasters, doing what they can to prevent them and cleaning up afterward.

Utahns and Americans generally have moved away from an early emphasis on self-reliance and independence and now look more often to government agencies in emergencies. A return to individual responsibility could lead to more efficient relief after a disaster and better planning to lessen its effects.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been criticized for its slow response to requests for federal aid, inequitable distribution of aid funds, and inefficient and costly acquisition of supplies and services. It has recently moved away from its old military-civil defense function and toward better management of disasters, but it has a long way to go.

FEMA also kicks in only when a disaster has been declared by the president and provides money only for immediate, temporary needs of disaster victims. In the aftermaths of Hurricane Andrew and the floods of 1993, victims were rightfully angry and frustrated by the delays of federal agencies' bureaucratic red tape.

The task force has several recommendations that appear to be a move in the right direction - toward personal responsibility. First, the proposal would establish a "rainy day" disaster fund that would be financed through a fee on private insurance premiums. Most of the money would be reserved for actual disasters, but 20 percent would go to state and county governments for disaster preparedness.

The fund would be maintained at $2 billion to provide relief for "average or common" disasters and help out during calamities the size of the Midwest floods.

As the primary source of relief aid, the task force recommends "all-hazard" insurance for homeowners and businesses that meet building codes, fire and safety standards and make other efforts to minimize risk of damage in a flood, hurricane or other disaster. To get disaster aid from the rainy day fund, recipients would have to carry the all-hazard insurance where it is readily available and affordable.

Those and other recommendations of the task force make sense. They emphasize safety measures to prevent disasters when possible and put disaster relief on a more local level - where it should be handled.