Saturday, July 29, 2006

Emergency-Response Personnel Lack Communication Gear

A survey of nearly 200 cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors has determined that in four out of five cities, emergency-response personnel still lack equipment to let them communicate with each other or other governments in the area, 44 percent have yet to create or update evacuation plans, and almost 75 percent say they aren’t ready to address an outbreak of pandemic flu.

USA Today noted that the report was released almost five years after the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001 and a year after New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane
Katrina.

“Does the public want to hear this? I don't think so,” says Dearborn, Michigan, Mayor
Michael Guido, who heads the conference. He said cities need more money from Washington but must do more on their own – such as making mutual-aid agreements with nearby towns, making plans to share equipment in emergencies, and making advance contracts with private firms for such tasks as debris removal.

Cities “have been left to do it on their own, [and] the property taxpayers of this
country do not have the resources to fund national security,” said Elizabeth, N.J., Mayor J. Christian Bollwage.

The survey covered cities in 38 states, from Bothell, Washington – population 30,150
– to New York City, with 8 million residents. Individual cities’ responses were not made public. Findings included:
-- Most cities said they have not gotten enough funding to let police and firefighters use the same radio systems and other equipment they need to communicate in a crisis. The Department of Homeland Security has distributed more than $2 billion for improved communications.
-- More than 4 in 10 cities reported they either have no evacuation plans, or have not updated them, in the year that has elapsed since the deadly Gulf Coast hurricanes.
-- Cities in the survey gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency an average score of 5.2, on a 1-10 scale, when asked their level of confidence that FEMA would respond quickly after a major disaster.
On a related note, the House approved a bill by a vote of 414-2 to require the development of national standards for emergency communications equipment and to require states and localities to develop emergency communications plans before becoming eligible for federal grant funds.

The bill, H.R. 5852, would establish an Office of Emergency Communications within
the Department of Homeland Security with authority to coordinate all local, state and federal agencies with a role in developing interoperable communications systems.

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