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Preparedness Update

 

May 25, 2007

Key Senators Reject Independent FEMA

 

Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) do not support removing the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the Department of Homeland Security, as proposed by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Because Lieberman and Collins are the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC), their opposition makes it unlikely that Clinton's bill, which would return FEMA to independent, cabinet-level status, has much of a chance.  

 

"While some still call for FEMA to be taken out of DHS, I believe that would be a serious mistake," Sen. Lieberman is quoted in CongressDaily coverage. "I am confident that FEMA today, within DHS, is much stronger than it was on 9/11 and much stronger still than it was ... when Katrina struck the Gulf Coast [in 2005]." Lieberman and Collins made their comments at a HSGAC hearing Tuesday entitled: Implementing FEMA Reform: Are We Prepared for the 2007 Hurricane Season?"  

 

May 18, 2007

Red Cross Promotes Preparedness in New York City

 

Tuesday, June 11, 2007  

Prepare NY Seminar  

Time: 11am – 11:45am  

Location: J W Johnson Senior Center  

2205 First Avenue, New York City  

 


Prepare New York is a free 45-minute emergency preparedness presentation teaching New York City residents how to create a plan, build a supply kit, and keep loved ones safe and informed during times of disaster.  

 

Participants walk away with an interactive CD that can be used to create a customized evacuation plan and other tools that will help any family get prepared. Also included are various brochures from the American Red Cross and the New York City Office of Emergency Management, as well as a quiz to test the attendee's emergency preparedness knowledge. Visit the website to register or call 212-875-2177 for more information. The program is free of charge.  

 

Congress Supports Job Protection for Emergency Volunteers

 

An amendment to the 2007-08 Homeland Security authorization act would protect the jobs of volunteer firefighters and other emergency volunteers who respond to a federally-declared emergency. "We thank the cosponsors and supporters of this legislation for their efforts. These firefighters and EMS personnel should not have to worry about their jobs back home, when responding with their departments to national events like Hurricane Katrina,” Chief Jim Harmes, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is quoted in Fire Chief Magazine coverage.  

 

Oregon Rejects $665 Million Radio System Overhaul

 

The Oregon Legislature rejected Gov. Ted Kulongoski's (D) plan to spend $665 million for a statewide public safety radio network because the proposal was too vague and would cost nearly $200 for every man woman and child in Oregon. Rep. Donna Nelson (R), is quoted in Oregonian coverage: "I've never seen anything like what's happening here in all my years of being here -- to establish something that is so huge and so serious" without more detail. "I don't know how on earth we can approve this without a plan and a budget." Oregon's plan, while sketchy on details, called for more coverage, more towers, higher system capacity and newer technology than most other states. The Legislature appropriated $6.8 million to study alternative plans.  

 

Law Would Provide Immunity for Reports of Suspicious Activity

 

Praising the role of a New Jersey video store clerk in exposing the Fort Dix conspiracy, federal lawmakers have moved to protect people reporting suspicious activity from lawsuits. "Law-enforcement officials have noted that their investigation was triggered by an alert clerk's report that a customer had brought in a video that showed men firing weapons and shouting in Arabic, which reminded him of the 9/11 terrorists," Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) explained to the Senate last Friday, as quoted in United Press International coverage. "Protecting citizens who make good-faith reports of potentially lethal activities is essential to maintaining our homeland security."  

 

The key phrase in the legislation is "good faith," a caveat inserted to address fears that certain groups would become targets of vindictive or frivolous investigations. The bill was introduced in the Senate last Friday by Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, and ranking member Susan Collins, R-ME, of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ. Reps. Peter King, R-NY, and Steve Pearce, R-NM, and Bill Schuster, R-PA, introduced companion legislation in the House on Monday.  

 

May 4, 2007

Family Members Push For Speedy Passage of 9/11 Reforms

 

A group of 9/11 family members traveled to Washington this week to urge Congressional action on the 9/11 reforms legislation in the House (H.R. 1) and Senate (S.4). Both houses have passed their respective bills but the conference process--where members of both houses negotiate a consensus bill to send to the President--has yet to begin in earnest. The 9/11 family members, including Mary Fetchet and Carol Ashley of VOICES and Beverly Eckert and Carie Lemack of Families of September 11th, appeared at a press conference Wednesday with 9/11 Commissioners Tim Roemer and John Lehman. The two continue their dilligent work to ensure that the recommendations of their Commission are written into law and properly implemented.  

 

An informative article in The Connecticut Post covers the press conference and lays out some of the roadblocks the legislation has faced, including differences between the House and Senate on what percentage of homeland security funds should go to each state. “The Senate has to work with the House to realize that money needs to go to the cities that are most vulnerable,” Mary Fetchet is quoted in the Connecticut Post.  

 

Commissioner Roemer commented on a possible timeline for a conferenced bill by the end of May. Roemer told National Journal: "We have goals in mind right now. This 30 days is a goal. But we've not insisted on any deadline because we want the process to work and work well. If this meanders into the summertime, I think you'll see some growing impatience." President Bush has expressed opposition to some provisions likely to be in the final bill, including allowing Transportation Security Administration workers to unionize. A veto is possible.  

 

April 27, 2007

Little Urgency on 9/11 Reforms Bill

 

9/11 family members traveled to Washington this week to press both the House and Senate to continue moving forward on 9/11-reforms legislation. The House and Senate have both passed versions of the bill that are currently stalled. Differences between the two bills must be reconciled before a conferenced bill is sent to President Bush, and the conference process is only in its nascent stages. However, the family members were given assurances that this vital legislation remains a priority of the new Congress. The legislation was passed as part of the initial blitz of lawmaking in January and February, but has lost steam since then as Democrats face divisive debate on war spending and other issues. It could face another challenge at the President’s desk: Bush has vowed to veto any legislation that would allow Transportation Security Administration workers to unionize, a provision contained in both the House (H.R. 1) and Senate (S.4) bills.  

 


House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-MS told CongressDaily that completing the supplemental spending bill has overshadowed work on the security bill. "I'm patient as long as we get it done," Thompson (shown at left) is quoted. "I know that the president is dangling vetoes over our head right and left." The main point of contention between the House and Senate versions of the legislation is what percentage of Homeland Security appropriations should be allocated strictly according to risk, and what percentage should be divided among all 50 states. "The homeland security grants, of course, will be contentious," one Senate aide told CongressDaily. "Both bills provide the vast majority of homeland security funding on the basis of risk, but the bills differ in the minimum amount of money guaranteed to each state so they can all achieve a basic level of preparedness."  

 

April 6, 2007

DHS Preparedness Directorate will be Folded into FEMA, Head Quits

 

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security folded its 18-month old Preparedness Directorate into the Federal Emergency Management Association. The reshuffling prompted the resignation of George Foresman, who served for fifteen months as the first head of the DHS Preparedness Directorate and will be its last.  

 

"George is an exceptional professional who has shown a steadfast commitment to the ideals of leadership by example," DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement quoted in GovExec coverage: "Through his tireless dedication, George helped sharpen the federal government's focus in the areas of infrastructure protection, including the security of chemical facilities, national information technology and telecommunications systems, and he has been instrumental in leading refinements to our grants processes, approaches to risk management, use of biometrics and communications interoperability."  

 

As DHS undersecretary for Preparedness, Foresman oversaw the department's more than $3 billion first-responder grant program, the U.S. Fire Administration, critical infrastructure and cyber-security programs and the National Capital Region coordinating office. He joined DHS shortly after Hurricane Katrina when DHS and FEMA were heavily criticized for their response. Soon after, lawmakers and state and local officials began lobbying to restore preparedness programs to FEMA. Congress passed a law late last year that reorganized DHS, shifting primary responsibility for preparedness to FEMA, effectively eliminating Foresman's job.  

 

"Mr. Foresman's resignation is unfortunate. With the DHS [reorganization] and building up of 'New FEMA,' he was marginalized and eventually had no job left," A DHS official who requested anonymity is quoted in CQ Homeland Security coverage. According to the official, Foresman seemed to be the right man for the job of undersecretary of Preparedness. "The biggest problem was the definition of what the job was... Nobody was ever really able to define 'Preparedness.'"  

 

DHS Announced this week that former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Robert D. Jamison will serve as the new DHS Deputy Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate. According to the announcement: "Robert will help lead our national efforts to protect our critical infrastructure and prevent attacks on it and improve the resiliency of essential cyber-security and communications capabilities."  

 

March 30, 2007

House Hearing Examines First Responder Communications

 


This week, a House subcommittee held a hearing to monitor the progress of the planned shift from analog to digital TV broadcasting and the subsequent release of analog spectrum for use by first responders. Better communications among first responders could have saved many lives on 9/11, and VOICES has long advocated for the transfer of spectrum as quickly as possible. VOICES Founding Director Mary Fetchet testified before the committee Wednesday to push for a renewed effort by Congress to give the first responders the tools they need to effectively communicate during a terrorist attack or natural disaster. "Imagine being told that your loved ones' death could have been prevented," Ms. Fetchet testified at the House telecommunications and Internet subcommittee hearing chaired by Ed Markey (D-MA), below. "It's inexcusable that we haven't gotten our rescue people the tools to do their job," as quoted in Reuters coverage. Her full testimony is available on the committee's website, along with streaming video of the proceedings.  

 


Encouragingly, many of the broadcasters and merchants on the witness panel and many lawmakers on the subcommittee seem committed to the current date: February 17, 2009. After that date, U.S. television stations will be required to air only digital broadcasts, freeing up 108 megahertz of analog airwaves. Of the total, 24 MHz is being set aside for public safety and the rest will be auctioned. "We cannot violate a sacred trust to those that died on 9/11. I will do whatever I can do not to let this deadline slip," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), as quoted in Los Angeles Times coverage. Some lawmakers questioned whether the nation's TV viewers and retailers would be ready for the change. All new TVs are already digital-ready, but some old televisions would require a converter box to view the digital TV broadcast or their screens would go blank permanently. The government plans to subsidize the purchase of the boxes, which will cost nearly $60 dollars, with a $40 coupon. Congress has already authorized the coupon program at a cost of up to $1.5 billion. Read more about this vitally important issue in the VOICES for Change section of our website.  

 

March 9, 2007

News Briefs

 

March 6 - Send $$$ Not Screeners MTA tells feds - The MTA has rejected the feds' offer to provide government screeners to inspect railroad riders for explosives - and wants more money instead... (New York Daily News)   

 

March 6 - New York Officials Urge Renewal of Federal Terrorism Insurance - New York officials urged Congress yesterday to renew a terrorism insurance program set to expire at the end of this year that they said allowed the city’s economy to recover and grow in the years after the Sept. 11 terror attack... (New York Times)  

 

March 5 - Experts: U.S. unprepared for nuclear terror attack - Although the Bush administration has warned repeatedly about the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack and spent more than $300 billion to protect the homeland, the government remains ill-prepared to respond to a nuclear catastrophe. Experts and government documents suggest that, absent a major preparedness push, the U.S. response to a mushroom cloud could be worse than the debacle after Hurricane Katrina, possibly contributing to civil disorder and costing thousands of lives... (McClatchy Newspapers)  

 

March 3 - Driver's License Law Delayed - Legislators in Maine took the lead among states this year in rebelling against tougher driver's license requirements established by Congress in 2005. Last week, Republican Susan Collins, one of the state's two U.S. senators, did the same on a national level by offering legislation to delay implementation of the law (PL 109-13) known as the Real ID Act. Collins, the ranking member of the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, offered her provision Feb. 28 as an amendment to the pending homeland security bill (S 4). The next day, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced a temporary reprieve for states to meet the requirements, and Collins withdrew her amendment... (Congressional Quarterly)  

 

February 23, 2007

Security Focus Turns to Trains and Mass Transit

 

Another deadly train bombing in India has brought increased focus this week to the security of America’s rail and mass transit systems. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said he will make increased security on trains and subways a priority for the coming term. "Terrorists have yet again demonstrated that transportation systems are targets, and this notice must not be ignored. I call upon my colleagues in the House and Senate to work with me to secure our trains and public transit systems. We have received enough warnings. History will judge us if we don't act now," Rep. Thompson is quoted in United Press International coverage. According to Rep. Thompson’s estimates, The Department of Homeland Security currently spends one penny per passenger on mass transit security, while spending nine dollars per passenger on aviation security. President Bush included only $175 million in transit security grants in his fiscal 2008 budget proposal, the same level as FY '07.  

 

Rep. Thompson is holding committee hearings on mass transit and has promised to introduce legislation mandating more training for transit workers, whistle-blower protection for those who reveal security lapses, increased screening at stations and federal grants for mass-transit security. In the Senate, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee reported out a rail security bill (S. 184) that would authorize $1.1 billion from fiscal years 2008 to 2011 to provide, among other things, system-wide security upgrades on Amtrak, funding for Amtrak’s Northeast corridor, and funding for freight railroads. Also, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee recently sent legislation authorizing $3.5 billion to be spent over the next three years on transit security to the full Senate. Read more in Congressional Quarterly coverage.  

 

But some critics claim that more grant money will not necessarily make transit more secure. Heritage Foundation homeland security expert James Carafano told the conservative Cybercast News Service this week: "Focusing myopically on specific threats such as a terrorist attack on a U.S. train is a grave mistake. America is a vast nation with millions of people and trillions of dollars of infrastructure. Everything can't be hardened to the point that terrorists will be deterred, and hardening one target to the exclusion of everything else won't stop terrorists." In a January Senate hearing, Transportation Security Administration head Kip Hawley pointed out the inherent difficulty in fully securing systems that were designed to be easy to access and used by large numbers of people: "Many of these systems were designed with mobility and ease of access as an enabling fundamental underlying their operational success… Our security efforts must work within the framework of these systems and not hamper them. That inherent openness and mobility also presents us with our greatest security challenge," Hawley told the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee (click to visit the committee's website).  

 

The attack on a train traveling from India to Pakistan killed at least 68 people Sunday. It is the most recent in a string of attacks on rail and mass transit systems stretching back to the March 11, 2004 attacks on commuter trains in Madrid which killed 191 people and injured thousands; the July 7, 2005 bombings of London mass transit which killed 52; and July 11, 2006 attack on Mumbai, India’s suburban railroad system which killed 209.  

 

February 9, 2007

White House Releases Department of Homeland Security Budget Request

 

Budget figures are notoriously difficult to understand and open to flexible interpretations, but some points have become clear in recent media coverage:  

 

Overall, the DHS budget is expected to grow from 5-10% over last year. A DHS fact sheet claims the White House's request totals $46.4 billion, but CongressDaily coverage reports about "$37.7 billion in total discretionary spending." Click to read a summary of the DHS budget request from the White House Office of Management and Budget.  

 

Interoperable communications will get a boost from a $1 billion line item for the Public Safety Interoperable Communications (PSIC) grant program. According to the DHS fact sheet: "Funds requested through these programs will (1) provide critical assistance to State and local homeland security efforts, (2) support resources available through other federal assistance programs that center on first responder terrorism preparedness activities, and (3) deliver ample support to all State and local first responder organizations to obtain the equipment, training, and other resources required to protect the public in the event of a terrorist attack or other major incident. DHS expects that funding to come from a sale of radio spectrum this fall. According to the fact sheet, other preparedness initiatives include: FEMA’s Vision Initiatives, a program designed to enable the agency "to intensify and speed the development of core competencies central to achieving disaster readiness, response and recovery," grants to further professionalize FEMA's disaster recovery teams, and a big increase in funding for the Coast Guard.  

 

In related news, the Government Accountability Office issued a report this week that examined the way DHS calculates risk and vulnerability to set funding levels for state and local homeland security grant programs like the Urban Areas Security Initiative. "It is almost as if the money is distributed based on a bureaucrat with darts throwing them at a map of the United States ," Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) is quoted in the New York Post. "There's no rhyme or reason." A DHS spokesman, Russ Knocke, disputed some aspects of the report, and claimed that major cities were always prioritized for funding. Cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles "are always going to be tops in risk," and receive commensurate funding, as quoted in the Associated Press.  

 

VOICES e-Newsletter will continue to spotlight important items in the DHS budget, as well as reactions from state and local leaders, in future weeks.  

 

Click here to visit VOICES Preparedness page.  

 

February 2, 2007

Citizen Corps Promotes "Hometown Preparedness"

 


The Citizen Corps program was expanded after 9/11 to encourage local emergency preparedness—an effort they call “hometown security.” Joining your local Citizen Corps chapter is a great way to give back to your community by increasing its preparedness for a terrorist attack or natural disaster. According to its website, Citizen Corps “asks you to embrace the personal responsibility to be prepared; to get training in first aid and emergency skills; and to volunteer to support local emergency responders, disaster relief, and community safety.” Their website includes a listing of citizen preparedness publications and independent study courses, as well as a helpful zip-code search that allows you to find the Citizen Corps chapter near you. Citizen Corps is run under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. There are currently 2,135 Councils which serve 209,446,084 people or 73% of the total U.S. population.  

 

One especially important facet of Citizen Corps is the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which seeks to educate the American public about disaster preparedness and train them in "basic disaster response skills" such as fire safety, elementary search and rescue (SAR) operations, and first aid. CERT also teaches people how to work in conjunction with established first responders and community organizations to assist in the recovery after a natural disaster or terrorist attack. The CERT teams are engaging in a policy that seeks to create a mindset shift within the psyche of the American public from a response culture to a "preparedness" culture through its programs of community outreach and education.  

 

Click here to visit VOICES Preparedness page.  

 

January 26, 2007

New York's New Preparedness Director Tries to Learn Lessons of 9/11

 

In a speech at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy this week, newly appointed New York State Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Michael Balboni discussed the challenges he will face and the preparedness priorities he plans to address this year. The job makes Balboni responsible for day-to-day management of homeland security affairs, emergency preparedness and response, and law enforcement. Balboni, a former Republican state senator who crossed party lines to join the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, says he was deeply affected by 9/11 (he lost colleagues and friends and his sister had an appointment at the Trade Center that morning) and will bring vigor and bipartisan credentials to the vital post. "[9/11] left an indelible imprint on my mind," Balboni is quoted in NY Newsday. "I'm very focused on the issues and on the job at hand. Do I have the people around me? Do I have the information? Do I have the relationships? And if I don't, I have to develop them or get out."  

 

Balboni laid out his areas of focus for 2007:  

- Improved monitoring of mass transit and rail lines.  

- Completing a statewide interoperable communication system for first responders.  

- Developing new networks to convey emergency information to the public.  

- Increased focus on protection plans for the Port of N.Y. and N.J., as well as on "resiliency planning," to "imagine the unthinkable and then plan for it."  

- Improving information flow among local, state and federal law enforcement and counter-terror agencies.  

He also wants to beef up security at the Mohawk Indian reservation that borders Canada and upstate New York, as well as lobby the Department of Homeland Security for a larger share of federal grant money for preparedness.  

 

January 19, 2007

Resolve to Be Ready in 2007

 


Dropping those few pesky pounds might be a lost cause, but there is another vitally important resolution everybody should make this January: instituting effective preparedness measures in your home for a terrorist attack or natural disaster. VOICES has joined the Department of Homeland Security in urging all Americans to take this season of new year's resolutions as a opportunity to take common-sense steps that will benefit your safety and peace of mind in case of an emergency.  

 

In a recent national survey conducted by The Ad Council, 91 percent of Americans agreed that taking some simple steps to prepare could help protect themselves and their families in the event of an emergency. However, only 55 percent had taken at least one of the three steps recommended by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Ready Campaign, including getting an emergency supply kit, making a family emergency plan, and being informed about the different types of emergencies that could occur and their appropriate responses.  

 

VOICES is encouraging you to visit www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY to learn how to prepare your families, homes and businesses for all types of emergencies including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. Free materials, including family emergency plan templates and sample business continuity plans, are available through these resources. You can also visit VOICES Preparedness homepage, which has a variety of other resources to help you get started.

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