On April 13, 2016, the US House of Representatives passed Rep. Donald Payne, Jr.’s (D-NJ) State and High-Risk Urban Area Working Group Act (HR 4509). The purpose of the legislation is to assist decision-makers in understanding their community’s specialized needs and vulnerabilities and allocate homeland security grant investments accordingly.
The Act was inspired by the growing lack of coordination among those involved in community response to disaster situations.
“Any time there is a lack of coordination between the various individuals and entities charged with protecting our communities, we leave ourselves vulnerable to disasters and emergencies,” said Rep. Payne. “The State and High-Risk Urban Area Working Group Act ensures that the right people are at the table when decisions are made about how federal homeland security grant funds are to be spent at the state and local level. Its passage marks a meaningful step forward in protecting our communities against vulnerabilities and keeping them prepared for disasters.”
HR 4509 is meant to facilitate a “Whole Community” approach to disaster planning by better defining who should be on State Planning Committee and Urban Area Working Groups.
The State and High-Risk Urban Area Working Group Act would also do the following:
- Require states that receive funding under the Homeland Security Grant Program to establish State planning committees to assist in the review and preparation of threat and hazard identification as well as risk assessments and determining effective funding priorities. The same standards apply to high-risk urban areas.
- Calls for State planning committees and high-risk urban area working groups to consist of representatives from various stakeholder communities, including local and tribal government officials; emergency response providers; public health officials and medical practitioners; representatives of educational institutions; state and regional interoperable communications coordinators; and state and major urban fusion centers.
- Expects the members of the planning committee to be from the counties, cities, towns, and tribes within the State or high-risk urban area’s jurisdiction—this includes rural, high-population, and high-threat jurisdictions.
- Clarifies that States and urban areas that already have a multi-jurisdictional committee that meets the aforementioned requirements, need not re-organize their current one or form a new one.
In a statement, Rep. Payne explained that during his tenure as the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness Subcommittee he saw the benefits of DHS’ homeland security grant programs.
“Communities throughout my district – from Newark to Jersey City – have built robust capabilities to prevent, protect against, and respond to terrorist attacks and natural disasters with State Homeland Security Grant and Urban Area Security Initiative grant funding,” Rep. Payne stated. “As successful as DHS’ homeland security grant programs have been, however, more needs to be done to ensure those who are responsible for various aspects of disaster response plan, train, and exercise together before a disaster strikes.”