HARRISBURG – The state Senate approved legislation today requiring Senate confirmation of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) director, according to Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) who sponsored the bill.
Senate Bill 433 was passed by a bipartisan vote, taking a positive step toward establishing a more robust check and balance system for PEMA. This will increase accountability and ensure the agency is prepared to handle emergencies efficiently and effectively.
“The need for the position is more significant than ever before,” said Baker. “Natural or weather-related disasters, an outbreak of a disease or a public safety incident – such as the train derailments we have seen recently across the country – are just a few examples of what this position may face.”
PEMA is the lead emergency coordination agency in the commonwealth tasked with ensuring the safety of 13 million residents. This includes oversight of 911 centers and the Emergency Alert System, as well as hazardous materials and incidents involving five nuclear power plants.
The agency also has responsibility for the coordination and direction of commonwealth resources in response to emergencies and disasters and coordinates and manages numerous federal disaster assistance programs. In the current fiscal year, more than $1.4 billion flowed through the agency.
“To provide for the success and stability of our state’s emergency response agency, we must have the opportunity to judge the qualifications, capabilities and priorities of the director before they assume office,” Baker said. “PEMA has 324 employees, which is far greater than the departments of Aging, Banking, Drug and Alcohol, and Insurance, as well as the position of state fire commissioner. These agencies already require Senate confirmation for their cabinet officials.”
Public safety and emergency planning impact every county and community in the state. In many cases, all levels of government must coordinate the incident response, with PEMA leading the effort. In the case of a public safety concern, PEMA becomes the public’s source of information, directing the response and recovery for individuals and the rebuilding of businesses and communities.
“Given the enormous scope of responsibility, the head of PEMA should also be put through a nomination and confirmation process, rather than executive approval alone,” said Baker. “This bill is a solid step toward more responsive and accountable state government leadership.”
The bill now advances to the House of Representatives for consideration.