HARRISBURG – The Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) would have to be considered by the Senate for confirmation under legislation sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne) that was approved by the Senate today.
Baker, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said that Senate Bill 637 is important to strengthening emergency response efforts and protecting public safety. PEMA’s director is responsible for coordinating the state’s response to natural and manmade disasters, terrorist attacks and threats to public health and safety.
She cited the increased responsibilities of the Agency in the post 9/11 and Katrina world and serves a core function in state government when it comes to protecting state residents and responding to emergencies.
“Given the scope of these charges, I believe the nominee for this position should be accountable to the legislature,” Baker said. “The legislative scrutiny and review of this individual will help us to remain apprised of the policies and practices of PEMA and assure state residents that we consider this position to be one of the utmost importance.”
She added that requiring Senate confirmation of the PEMA Director will be a positive step toward improving agency accountability and ensure that there is strong communication and coordination in responding to emergencies.
“Throughout recent Senate and House hearings to review the response to the storm of February 13-15, we identified significant communication gaps between state and local agencies and between state agencies and the Governor’s office during the emergency,” Baker said. “Citizens expect state and local emergency response to be provided in a timely, expedient, and responsible manner. I believe requiring Senate confirmation will increase accountability and ensure that the agency is prepared to deal with emergencies efficiently and effectively.”
“The Witt Report specifically, and I quote, “faulted the Commonwealth for not adopting emergency management as a core principle, and found a lack of awareness among all levels of the state’s system,” said Baker. “Today the Senate took what I believe is the first step in making emergency preparedness a priority by approving legislation to require that the Director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency be confirmed by a majority vote of the members of the Senate.”
Baker added, “I introduced this legislation because I believe, given the scope and direct impact on the public safety of our citizens, the position should be accountable. The legislative scrutiny and review of this individual will help us remain apprised of the policies and practices at PEMA moving forward.”
Lee Ann Labecki