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Murray Amendment Would Improve Local Emergency Planning and Coordination

Jul 23 2003

Increasing Emergency Management Performance Grants would allow local emergency coordinators to devote dollars to communities’ most pressing needs

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) –U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today offered an amendment to help local communities prepare for and respond to emergency situations as the Senate considered the Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The amendment failed on a procedural vote of 53-45. Murray’s amendment would have provided an additional $100 million for Emergency Management Planning Grants to ensure that emergency planners across America have the resources they need to respond to a terrorist attack or other disaster.



Since the events of September 11th, first responders across the country have been asked to develop coordinated plans to respond to terrorist attacks. These plans are in addition to the preparation local emergency coordinators already provide for natural disasters and other local safety concerns. Unfortunately, while demands on local first responders have increased, federal funding has not.



“We don’t want our communities to have to choose between preparing for a tornado and preparing for a smallpox attack,” Murray said. “We’re asking our emergency responders to prepare for everything and they need more funding to do it. This is not an area where we can afford to cut corners.”



Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPGs) fund state and local emergency management offices and provide training and resources for local first responders. EMPGs have existed for 10 years and are the backbone of the nation’s emergency response system. The grants, which receive half of their funding from the federal government and the other half from a local match, allow local coordinators to spend the funds on a community’s most pressing needs. Emergency managers can use EMPGs for such purposes as local planning, first responder training, public information and education, early warning systems, equipment, operational activities and emergency preparedness exercises.



The underlying Homeland Security bill provides $165 million for EMPGs. But, the National Emergency Management Association has assessed more than a $200 million shortfall for the EMPG program.



“If we combine funds for emergency preparedness with other grant programs, we will force emergency planning and coordination to compete with equipment and other important priorities,” Murray said. “We should be helping communities meet all of their needs – not pitting one against another so that our safety comes up short. I will continue to work to ensure that our first responders have the resources they need to protect our communities.”



Murray’s amendment was endorsed by such groups as the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the National Emergency Management Association and the International Association of Emergency Managers.



Senator Murray’s full remarks follow:

Mr. President, everything we are trying to do in this bill to improve homeland security will be undermined if our local communities don’t have solid emergency response plans.

Let me say that again because it’s so important.

Everything we are trying to do in this bill to improve homeland security will be undermined if our local communities don’t have solid emergency response plans. When a disaster strikes in one of our communities, the phone will ring at the desk of the local emergency manager.

When that phone call comes, if there is not a plan that’s “ready to go” to deal with that emergency, then we are all in trouble. Even if we’re able to provide all the equipment and training that our first-responders need, if there is not an effective plan -- at the local level -- to coordinate a disaster response, then we will have failed to protect our citizens.

I’ve come to the floor today to introduce an amendment to ensure that the emergency planners in virtually every county and community in America will have the tools they need to lead our response to a terrorist attack or other disaster.

My amendment will provide $100 million for Emergency Management Planning Grants. My amendment has been endorsed by: the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the National Emergency Management Association, and the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Those endorsements say a lot. Those endorsements mean that leaders at the city, the county, and the state level all recognize the need for this amendment. Those endorsements say that the emergency managers who work to protect all of our communities are asking you to support this amendment.

Mr. President, one of the least-talked about – but most important parts – of our response to a disaster takes place outside of the public view. In every county and major city in the country, there is an emergency response coordinator who works behind the scenes preparing for the worst. They determine what the needs are in the local communities.

They develop plans so that if there’s a tornado or a natural disaster, there is a game plan for everyone to follow. These plans coordinate the work of many different agencies and organizations, and they are really the backbone of our emergency response.

In one community, the emergency coordinator might be the fire chief or the sheriff. In another community, there might be a dedicated person who handles emergency planning exclusively. But no matter what their title, they perform a critical job. They make sure that we have an effective, coordinated plan to prepare for and respond to an emergency.

For decades, they’ve worked hard to prepare for natural disasters – developing plans to respond to tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and winter storms. But now they have a massive new responsibility to deal with.

Today they have to develop plans to respond to man-made disasters – plans to respond to terrorist attacks. They have to come up with strategies for handling scenarios that we could never have imagined just a few years ago. Our local emergency planners have a massive new responsibility, but they don’t have the funding they need to carry it out.

Mr. President, this is not an area where we can afford to skimp or cut corners. If -- God-forbid -- there is a smallpox outbreak somewhere in our country, the phone is going to ring at the desk of the local emergency coordinator. When he picks up the phone, either he has a plan to respond to smallpox, or he doesn’t.

There are no two ways about it. If, heaven-forbid, a dirty bomb goes off somewhere in our country, either there IS a game plan to follow - on the shelf . . . tested . . . ready-to-go – or there is NOT.

I want to make sure that when that phone call comes, we are prepared. And right now, we’ve got a long way to go. Trust me - you don’t want the emergency planner in your community to have to choose between preparing for a natural disaster and preparing for a terrorist attack.

They need to plan for both, and my amendment will give them the resources they need to meet the new homeland security threats. Simply put, our communities have to build a brand new capability from scratch, and they need help.

Let me turn to the specifics of my amendment.

My amendment would provide an additional $100 million to the existing Emergency Management Performance Grants. These are the grants that allow our emergency managers to meet the needs in their local communities. I want to note that funding for these grants has been stagnant for about a decade. The underlying bill does provide some funding for these grants, but it’s certainly not enough to allow our communities to create this new capability from scratch.

In fact, a March 2002 survey conducted by the National Emergency Management Association identified a $200 million shortfall for the EMPG program that has continued to grow. Emergency Management Planning Grants have been around for about 10 years, and they are the backbone of our nation’s emergency response system.

They are funded 50/50 – half the funding comes from the local level and half the funding comes from the federal level. These grants fund the local emergency management offices that build our state and local emergency capability, and they provide the foundation for our first responders.

I can tell you that in Washington State -- without these grants -- many of our smaller and rural communities would not have had the resources to develop their emergency response plans. So these grants have been critical in helping our communities prepare over the years.

Today, these grants are the best vehicle to meet the new challenges because they are flexible. Emergency Management Planning Grants are flexible – allowing local coordinators – the folks on the ground – to use them where they’ll do the most good. Here are some of things that emergency managers can use the grants for: Local Planning, First Responder Training, Emergency Preparedness Exercises Personnel, Operational Activities, Equipment, Early Warning Systems, Public Information and Education, Mutual Aid, and Other Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Activities.

All of those options are available to local emergency managers under this grant program. Some people may claim that we can just combine this grant program with others, and that dedicated funding doesn’t really matter. But that’s not true. If we combine this with other grant programs, we will force emergency planning and coordination to compete with equipment and other important priorities.

We should be helping communities meet all of these needs – not pitting one against another so communities come up short. Our local communities need both equipment and planning, and we need to help fund both. So the Emergency Management Planning Grant is the right tool to empower the emergency planners in your community to meet the local needs.

Since September 11th, we have asked the local emergency managers in every county in America to develop coordinated plans to respond to terrorist attacks. We’ve asked them to take on a critical new responsibility, but we haven’t provided the funding they need. My amendment will provide an addition $100 million in flexible grants to meet the needs from coast to coast.

If our communities don’t have solid emergency response plans, then they’re really not prepared for a disaster. And that is a price we cannot afford to pay. Our ability to respond to a terrorist attack or other disaster is only as good as the emergency response plans in our local communities. If we buy all the equipment, but never develop good plans, we’re not really safe. If we send our firefighters to training, but we never coordinate our response to an attack, we’re not really safe.

We don’t want our communities to have to choose between preparing for a tornado and preparing for a smallpox attack. We’re asking them to prepare for everything, and they need more funding to do it. That’s why my amendment has been endorsed by: the Council of State Governments, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, the National Emergency Management Association, and the International Association of Emergency Managers.

Mr. President, if there is a terrorist attack on our country again, the phone will rink at the desk of a local emergency manager. And only one of two things will happen: either there will be a solid emergency response plan for that disaster – or there will not be -- and Americans will pay the price. Vote for this amendment so that one day – when that desperate phone call comes – the person who answers the phone will be ready to lead an effective response. You have the power to make sure that the communities in your state are ready, and I urge you to support the Murray Amendment.