Barrar Leads Committee Examination of Legislation to Modernize Emergency Preparedness Laws
On Tuesday, Aug. 14, Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware) led a public hearing of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee in Lewistown to examine legislation that would modernize Pennsyvlania’s emergency response and preparedness laws, which were last updated in 1996. Barrar will host two additional public hearings of the committee to speak with stakeholders about ways in which the legislation could be enhanced. Pictured (from left) are Rep. Chris Sainato (D-Beaver/Lawrence), minority chairman of the committee; Barrar, majority chairman of the committee; and Rick O’Leary, executive director of the committee.
LEWISTOWN – The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, led by majority chairman Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), held a public hearing Tuesday at the State Fire Academy in Lewistown to examine House Bill 2562, which would update Title 35 emergency response and preparedness laws.
Barrar noted that although he introduced House Bill 2562, the language for the legislation was provided by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). Tuesday’s hearing was the first in a series of three hearings throughout the state to vet the proposal and adjust the language as needed.
“The General Assembly last updated Title 35 in 1996,” said Barrar. “Since then, there have been significant events and new federal laws that necessitate changes to our emergency preparedness and response procedures. House Bill 2562 is the result of more than five years of hard work put forth by PEMA, county emergency management officials, emergency responders and many other stakeholders.”
House Bill 2562 would update the following areas of Title 35:
• Dependent care facilities planning.
• Powers and duties of county and local emergency management programs.
• Certification and accreditation of emergency professionals.
• County animal rescue teams.
• Enhanced coordination of regional all hazard/counter-terrorism task forces.
• Improved large event emergency planning.
• Comprehensive workers’ compensation coverage for emergency management
volunteers and workers.
• Heightened information sharing for better disaster consequence management.
• Expanded public health measures.
• Regionalization of emergency management programs.
Glenn Cannon, director of PEMA, testified about how drastically emergency response and preparedness have changed as a result of the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Valentine’s Day winter storm of 2007, Hurricanes Katrina and Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. He also spoke about the importance of protecting ourselves from cyber attacks.
“It is no longer enough to respond to disasters,” said Cannon. “We must focus on being prepared for any emergency we might experience. We must also ensure a quick recovery from catastrophic events. The world has changed dramatically since the last significant update to Title 35, and it is time for us to modernize our policies.”
Cannon described how his agency has conducted a comprehensive review of Pennsylvania’s entire emergency management program to identify necessary changes and improvements. In addition to PEMA’s efforts, James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and Ridge Global conducted independent reviews of the Commonwealth’s disaster response framework and issued reports recommending enhancements to our current program.
A major concern expressed by lawmakers during the hearing was the interoperability of emergency responders’ communication devices. Cannon stated that communication is the backbone of successful emergency response.
Dennis Colegrove, emergency management agency director for Tioga County, spoke about the necessity of modernizing Title 35 and about the dwindling funding from the federal and state levels of government for emergency preparedness. This lack of funding has caused challenges for responders.
Thanking PEMA for its willingness to accept feedback from local governments, Elam Herr, assistant executive director for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, discussed the main drawback of the legislation, which he sees as funding for emergency services. He testified about how local governments are partners with the state, serving the same population, and how necessary it is to properly fund emergency response efforts.
Representing the Keystone Emergency Management Association (KEMA), Jerry McAteer, KEMA president, reiterated the need for more funding at the local level. He also spoke about the need for greater cooperative planning and sharing of resources for a more efficient local emergency response operation.
“I thank today’s presenters for their input on this important issue,” said Barrar. “Their feedback is vital to the process of creating the best possible update of Title 35. Public hearings are a fundamental step in the legislative process. I will take their suggestions into consideration as we move forward with the bill.”
Members of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee who participated in the hearing were Reps. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria); Barrar; Karen Boback (R-Columbia/Luzerne/Wyoming); Garth Everett (R-Lycoming); Scott Hutchinson (R-Butler/Venango); Mark Longietti (D-Mercer); Chris Sainato (D-Beaver/Lawrence), minority chairman of the committee; Will Tallman (R-Adams/York).
The committee will hold another hearing regarding House Bill 2562 on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at 10 a.m. in Media.
More information about Barrar’s legislative priorities is available at www.SteveBarrar.com
State Representative Steve Barrar
160th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Nicole Wamsley