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Fire Chief Tells Congress the Nation Has More Work to Do on National Preparedness

Today Chief Jim Schwartz, chair of the IAFC’s Terrorism and Homeland Security Committee, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response & Communications. In his testimony, Chief Schwartz said the nation is better prepared for natural and manufactured disasters than it was 10-15 years ago, and it is in large part due to the collaboration between the federal government and local first-response agencies.

“While major incidents, both natural and human-made, will always cause loss to life and property, events such as the response to the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo.; the response to Superstorm Sandy last year; and the response to the Patriots’ Day bombing in Boston all demonstrate the strength of the nation’s emergency preparedness system,” said Schwartz. “Jurisdictions across the nation are developing capabilities to fill gaps in their preparedness systems and studying these events to learn lessons that can be applied in their communities.”

A common theme in the testimony was that of collaboration for local communities, both regional and with state and federal agencies. Schwartz, who also is chief of the Arlington County (Va.) Fire Department, referenced his experiences with the National Capital Region, which has collectively worked to improve patient tracking, scalable response capacity and information and data sharing in the Washington area.

He also recognized areas where federal, state and local collaboration is key, such as addressing public-safety communications and developing programs like the Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team to improve information sharing.

Schwartz also highlighted the importance of mutual aid to an effective national preparedness system and highlighted the IAFC’s Intrastate Mutual Aid System program.

While better prepared than a decade ago, Schwartz noted there is still much to be done. He cautioned policy makers and responders not to rest on their laurels, citing the need for further regionalization to capture economic and operational efficiencies, the danger of shrinking local resources and the need to be prepared for continuously emerging threats.

Here are some of the immediate actions he urged policymakers to take:

  • Sustain and bolster the baseline emergency response capability of local fire and EMS departments.
  • Develop a means for grant recipients to share best practices and lessons learned in order to create greater efficiency.
  • Make sure that fusion centers are providing local first responders information that is clear, helpful and actionable.
  • Aggressively develop and dispense medical countermeasures to first responders and their families.
  • Ensure local response agencies are equal partners with state and federal agencies in the Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (THIRA) process and the National Preparedness Grant Program.
  • Include firefighting as a core capability function in PPD-8.

“It is important to remember that any national disaster begins locally and ends locally,” said Schwartz. “However, one of the greatest lessons the nation has learned in the past 12 years is that it requires the development of a comprehensive national system to improve preparedness.”

The fire and emergency services are prepared to perform their role, and the IAFC will be there to support them, both in Congress and in their hometowns.

To read the complete testimony and access additional IAFC resources for disaster management and homeland security, visit the IAFC website.

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