Senator Baker Ready to Push for Witt Plan to Strengthen State’s Preparedness

HARRISBURG – Senator Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, offered her support for recommendations announced today to strengthen Pennsylvania’s emergency preparedness. “Restoring public confidence in the state’s ability to properly handle emergency situations is critical, and today’s announcement is a good step in the right direction,” said Baker.

In an afternoon press conference at the Capitol, Governor Edward G. Rendell said that an independent review of the state’s response to the Valentine’s Day snowstorm prepared by James Lee Witt & Associates of Washington D.C. yielded valuable insight into Pennsylvania’s emergency response operations and identified key areas in need of operational reform.

Last February’s snow and ice event stranded hundreds of motorists on Pennsylvania’s northeast roadways (I-78, I-81, and I-80) for up to 20 hours in sub-freezing temperatures.

The initial report released by Witt & Associates on March 27, 2007 found that the Commonwealth lacked an overall level of emergency awareness and recommended that the Pennsylvania State Police, Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Transportation improve agency readiness, technological and human resources, internal and public communications, and interagency emergency operations plans.

Today’s report offered strategies for addressing the Commonwealth’s overall emergency awareness:

  • Create a Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

  • Bolster the Governor’s Emergency Management Council with a new charge and responsibilities.

  • Require the new Department of Emergency Management to develop a strategic plan.

  • Coordinate all emergency management and response efforts across all agencies.

  • Develop a more aggressive and fiscally responsible model for distributing federal and state money.

  • Develop partnerships with local governments, the private sector and the federal government.

  • Launch a citizen preparedness campaign to establish Pennsylvania as a leader in the concept of making private business and individual citizens partners with government in preparing for and responding to disasters.

  • Pursue an update to Title 35, which deals with the health and safety of Pennsylvanians and is the home for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Code.

  • Adopt the National Incident Management System, which was developed so responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines can work together to better respond to natural disasters and emergencies, including acts of terrorism.

“As we learned during the Senate Hearings, there were significant interagency communications breakdowns during last February’s storm. By streamlining organizational structure, elevating PEMA’s status within state government, and moving into full compliance with the National Incident Management System, I believe Pennsylvania can significantly improve interagency communications and advance its emergency readiness,” said Baker.

“I am committed to working with the administration to implement these corrective measures,” said Senator Baker. “We heard from hundreds and hundreds of drivers who were caught in the Valentine’s Day storm. We share their concerns and want to make sure that these improvements to Pennsylvania’s emergency preparedness system are implemented quickly. They will certainly benefit the safety and well-being of all Pennsylvanians.”

Additionally, Senate Republicans have already introduced several bills which complement today’s announced initiatives. In February, Baker introduced SB 637 calling for the elevation of PEMA to a cabinet level agency, requiring senatorial confirmation of PEMA’s Director after nomination by the Governor. The bill passed the Senate but is pending consideration in the House. This bill directly aligns with today’s recommendation to elevate PEMA to a cabinet agency recognizing its increased importance with emergency management and oversight.

In June, Senators Baker and Roger Madigan (R-Bradford) called for implementation of a 511/Intelligent Transportation System in SB 976. And this week, Senator John Pippy (R-Allegheny) announced plans to introduce Mutual Aid legislation that would formalize local government emergency agreements.

 Contact: Brian Grove
(570) 675-3931

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