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Public Statements

FEMA Reauthorization Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. RICHARDSON. Mr. Speaker, I want to commend my friend and colleague from California, Chairman DENHAM, as well as Ranking Member Norton, for bringing this bill forward and for working with me to improve the bill.

I serve in a unique position by serving on both the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, as well as Homeland Security. Although this may not be the perfect bill, as some have articulated for the record already, I would have preferred, for example, that the bill make more explicit FEMA's authority to respond to acts of terrorism, in addition to natural disasters. Yet I believe it is necessary that we pass this bill today to ensure that the men and women of FEMA have the resources necessary to respond to emergencies and disasters in the near future.

I rise in support of the bill, specifically to the language that I added to H.R. 2903 in committee, and I believe it's essential to the well-being of the American people. Specifically, my language, which was marked up in the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and accepted with bipartisan approval, would provide a series of checks and balances that keep the American public safe.

First, my language simply would ensure that the Department of Homeland Security coordinates and provides guidance to the appropriate individuals, officials, and organizations for outreach to individuals with disabilities during unforeseen disasters. This simple, straightforward language will help to keep the disabled, who are the most vulnerable and often times experience the greatest challenges during a time of disaster, safe during those disasters, and also from terrorist attacks.

Individuals with disabilities should feel as safe and secure in their communities and their work environments as individuals without disabilities. Too often, however, the needs of people with disabilities are not considered in emergency planning despite the fact that the need for such planning has received an increased focus due to the recent disasters--for example, Hurricane Katrina--both natural and man-made.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has stated that:

At FEMA, we need to do a better job of meeting the needs of people with disabilities when disaster strikes. We have to start by supporting and encouraging our entire emergency management team, including our State and local partners, to integrate the needs of people with disabilities into all planning.

My language strengthens H.R. 2903 by ensuring guidance is given to the individuals with disabilities and facilitates cooperation among Federal, State, territorial, local, and tribal governments, private organizations, and individuals in the implementation of emergency preparedness plans related to individuals with disabilities.

Additionally, I included language that would make sure that the integrated public alert and warning system, IPAWS, is properly performing and that the system needs to be tested regularly. IPAWS is the generation platform for transmitting emergency alerts. I have the experience of representing in my district, the 37th Congressional District, the largest number of Samoans outside of Samoa. If we look at that particular incident, and had we had a better working system similar to what IPAWS will be able to do, I believe many lives would not have been lost.

Mr. Speaker, as you know, in November 2011, FEMA conducted a nationwide test of the emergency alert system for the first time in the system's 50-year existence. The system met with widespread problems. With the ever-changing threat to the environment and technological landscape, we cannot afford to wait 50 years to verify if IPAWS is fully performing. To do so is irresponsible. In the case of EAS tests, significant gaps in the system's ability to provide a nationwide alert were revealed for the first time.

My language seeks to make sure that IPAWS in the future is regularly tested and to encourage the administrator of FEMA to test the system at least once every 3 years.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that the language that I submitted was accepted in a bipartisan way, strengthens this bill, and I encourage my colleagues to support the bill as a whole.

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