Pascrell, Homeland Security Democrats, Introduce Comprehensive First Responder Legislation
WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ, 8 th ) today joined his democratic colleagues on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security at a press conference proposing sweeping legislation that provides needed resources to the nation's first responders. The Preparing America to Respond Effectively Act of 2003 (PREPARE Act) establishes an expert Task Force to identify the needs of first responders to enable them to prevent and respond to terrorist attack.
"We are spending billions on infrastructure and creating security agencies in Iraq, yet we are closing firehouses in New York City. No one here believes we should irk our responsibilities in Iraq but we have to pay attention to our needs here at home. We can continue to pontificate about providing for our first responders or we can get serious," stated Pascrell, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and one of the Congress' most strident supporters of first responders since 1997.
"We don't need consultants to determine the needs of our first responders. We need to listen to the cops, firefighters, EMS, and hospital personnel who everyday protect us, not K Street consultants. They know what needs to be done to create sound policy that provides the tools and resources to do the job. The Prepare Act allows our men and women on the front lines to determine what they need to protect us. This is how you draft policy, from the ground up."
The bill currently has over 95 co-sponsors, including all of the Democratic members of the Homeland Security Committee. It will:
Determine the essential capabilities needed by first responders to protect our communities;
Base future funding on these priorities with a grant program;
Revise the color-coded threat advisory system;
Provide interoperable communications equipment for first responders;
Improve information sharing from the federal government down local and state governments;
Require equipment and training standards to be established;
Authorize a preparedness education program for elementary and secondary schools;
Integrate public volunteers and private companies into response plans.
The legislation encompasses the requirements called for in the recent report authored by an independent task force at the Council on Foreign Relations, Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Drastically Unprepared . Former Senator Warren Rudman, chairman of the task force, has endorsed the legislation saying that "enactment of the PREPARE Act will serve to rectify many of the deficiencies identified in the Task Force report, and, as a result, increase the security of our homeland."
Some the statistics surrounding current first responder capabilities are unconscionable. Consider a few statistics about the firefighting side of the public safety equation alone: Over 10,000 fire engines in use are over 30 years old, 45% of firefighters lack standard portable radios, 57,000 firefighters lack critical personal protective clothing, and two-thirds of all fire departments in America are understaffed.
"By listening to first responders from around the country, we know that basic needs have gone unmet. We need to have a common understanding of the essential capabilities each community needs in order to be prepared," added Pascrell. "To accomplish this, the federal government must conduct a needs assessment and two years after 9/11 this has not been done. The PREPARE Act will let us know how prepared we are, where more is needed, and provide assistance to jurisdictions in need."