The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation introduced by Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) to improve US disaster preparedness and response capabilities. The legislation, Promoting Resilience and Efficiency in Preparing for Attacks and Responding to Emergencies (PREPARE) Act (HR 3583), aims to enhance emergency communications planning and coordination.
“From major mass transit arteries and chemical facilities to homes and schools, my district is vulnerable to a variety of man-made and natural disasters,” said Rep. Payne, Jr. “Our community’s first responders must be prepared to respond to every worst-case scenario. That is why I was proud to work with Congresswoman McSally to author the PREPARE Act.”
“In my capacity as Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, I have had the opportunity to hear from first responders and emergency managers across the country, as well as doctors, public health experts, and individuals advocating to ensure the needs of children are incorporated into disaster response plans,” Rep. Payne, Jr. added. “So I am pleased that the PREPARE Act includes my provision to improve the way the needs of children are integrated into emergency planning.”
The PREPARE Act includes the following key priorities:
- State Wide Interoperable Communications Enhancement Act, which passed the House as a stand-alone measure in July 2015, requires states to have a Statewide Interoperability Coordinator (SWIC) or to delegate activities related to achieving interoperability to other individuals.
- A provision that requires all radio users to receive initial and ongoing training consistent with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Interoperable Communications Strategy, which was required under legislation Rep. Payne, Jr. authored in 2015.
- An amendment directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to appoint a technical expert to ensure that children are incorporated into disaster preparedness, planning, response, and recovery activities. This provision requires FEMA to integrate the needs of children into its activities to protect against natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters.
- An amendment requiring homeland security grantees to have maintenance plans in place before using federal money to procure important emergency response equipment. Applicants for Urban Area Security Initiative and State Homeland Security Grant Program grants seeking funds to purchase equipment must develop equipment maintenance plans that identify which entity is responsible for maintaining such equipment.
The PREPARE Act also:
- Requires DHS to establish a medical countermeasures program to facilitate personnel readiness and establishes a voluntary anthrax vaccination program for first responders;
- Guarantees homeland security grant program recipients three years to use their grant funds, which will help ensure that limited funds are spent effectively and deliberately;
- Directs FEMA to include grant management best practices in its annual Notice of Funding Opportunity; and
- Charges FEMA to provide information to Congress on how grant funds are closing capability gaps.
Earlier this month, Homeland Security Today reported that the House passed Rep. Payne, Jr.’s State and High-Risk Urban Area Working Group Act (HR 4509), which requires decision-makers involved in disaster response planning to work together to gain a complete understanding of a community’s vulnerabilities so that homeland security grant investments can be prioritized appropriately.
“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, Jr. “The State andHigh-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.”