FEMA Reauthorization: Ensuring the Nation is Prepared
Chairman Lou Barletta (R-PA)
Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management
Hearing on FEMA Reauthorization: Ensuring the Nation is Prepared
October 2, 2013
(Remarks as Prepared)
Today’s hearing is the second in a series of hearings to examine reforms to improve our Nation’s emergency management capability. Last month, we received testimony on recovering quicker and smarter following a disaster. We examined the implementation of reforms enacted earlier this year as part of the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act and what additional reforms may be needed to streamline the process.
Today, we will hear from local officials and the private sector on two critical components of our preparedness and response system, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), and the Urban Search and Rescue System (USAR).
Many people in the public may ask, why are these programs important to me? Some may not recognize the acronym IPAWS but I am sure they would be familiar with the Emergency Alert System or the National Weather Service alerts that appear on their televisions or radios when a tornado or flood is approaching. And, many people may have already received weather or Amber alerts on their cellphones. All of these components are pieces of IPAWS – a system of systems intended to integrate and streamline alerts through as many devices as possible.
It sounds pretty straightforward in this age of technology that we should be able to alert people through TV, radio, cellphone, the Internet, social media…and the list goes on…. But as I am sure the witnesses before us will attest to, it has not been easy to develop this system.
While the nation’s alert system dates back to the old Emergency Broadcast System in the 1960s, it was not until 2006, when former President Bush issued an executive order directing the development of IPAWS that there was a focused effort to modernize the old system. In fact, it was not until 2011 that there was a nationwide test to make sure it would even work in the event of a presidential alert.
While the executive order provided direction for IPAWS, in 2009 the GAO raised a number of concerns about how it was being implemented and how effectively FEMA was working with key stakeholders such as the broadcasters and wireless industries. In recent years, however, I am pleased to say we have seen noticeable progress. The program office for IPAWS at FEMA has taken GAO’s findings seriously and has taken steps to try and address key problems identified.
I know FEMA has worked closely with this committee to address concerns and ensure we can conduct effective oversight of the program. In fact, in a more recent review completed earlier this year, the GAO found improvements in how the program is currently being implemented.
While there has been progress, there are still issues that must be addressed as IPAWS continues to expand and integrate additional capabilities. The national test for example was a good first step. However, there were clear gaps identified in our alert system that still need to be fixed. Reform legislation can help ensure the development of IPAWS stays on track and minimizes waste.
Another area we will examine today is the Urban Search and Rescue System (USAR). USAR has been a model of what a federal, state, local, and private sector partnership can look like. There are 28 USAR teams across the Nation, including in my home state of Pennsylvania. In fact, along with Fire Chief Khan a number of other USAR team members are also present today, including Special Operations Chief of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Craig Murphy.
Each team has up to 70 personnel that are cross-trained in areas such as search, rescue, medical, hazardous materials and logistics. The teams include physicians, structural engineers, and first responders. They are trained and equipped with help from FEMA and are called up by FEMA when needed to respond following a disaster.
While the members of these teams are not federal, they do not hesitate to respond to disasters in other states and even internationally, such as following the earthquake in Haiti. These teams have been deployed over the years to many disasters including the 9/11 World Trade Center terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more recently Hurricane Sandy and the Colorado floods and storms.
The problem has been that these team members, when “federalized,” do not have clarity on liability and compensation issues. It is amazing that we ask men and women to go into collapsed structures searching for trapped survivors without providing them clarity on their legal status when it comes to liability issues and injuries.
We want to explore today how USAR works, how USAR teams have responded to recent disasters, and what reforms may be needed to protect team members.
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• Mr. Damon Penn, Assistant Administrator for National Continuity Programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency | Written Testimony