IMPLEMENTING RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE 9/11 COMMISSION ACT -- (Senate - July 30, 2007)
Mr. KOHL. Madam President, I wish to discuss several provisions in the conference bill, H.R. 1, Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. As chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, I wish to thank Senators Lieberman, Collins, Dodd, and Shelby for working with me and my staff on provisions that will protect seniors in the event of an emergency or disaster.
It has been nearly 2 years since our Nation reeled from the tragic and shameful images of seniors abandoned during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sadly, we now know that 71 percent of the people who died were older than 60. Last year, the Special Committee on Aging held a hearing to examine how prepared the Nation is to care for our seniors in the event of a national emergency. What we learned was disheartening.
We learned that our Nation is woefully unprepared to meet the unique needs of our seniors in the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other emergency. Cookie-cutter emergency plans are of little use to seniors, especially those who depend on others for assistance in their daily lives. We need specific plans, programs, and information for all seniors facing emergencies.
That is why I teamed up with Senator Coleman to continue to work with the committees of jurisdiction to ensure that the Departments of Homeland Security and Transportation place seniors on the forefront of their emergency planning agenda. These provisions are an important step toward ensuring that seniors are not overlooked but are protected when the next national emergency occurs.
I thank Senators Lieberman and Collins again for working with us to include two important provisions in titles I and IV that will address emergency preparedness and planning for older individuals.
The first provision we have successfully included amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to ensure that as State, local, and tribal governments develop their mass-evacuation plans they include specific procedures to inform the elderly before and during an evacuation. This will send a strong signal to States and communities that are engaged in emergency planning that seniors must be a priority and cannot be forgotten or ignored during mass evacuations. This will also assist older individuals and their families in appropriately preparing for an evacuation during an emergency or other disaster.
The second provision we have included amends the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006 to ensure that the National Exercise Program is designed to address the unique needs of older individuals. The National Exercise Program was originally created to test and evaluate our Nation's level of preparedness and capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from national disasters. Such testing and evaluation will allow emergency management entities to effectively identify, assess, and improve vulnerabilities at the State, local, and tribal levels. This provision will keep older individuals on the forefront of national emergency planning.
I thank Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby again for working with us to successfully include and expand upon our original provision in title XIV, supported by the American Public Health Association, which would ensure that public transportation workers and other related employees are trained to meet the evacuation needs of seniors in the event of a crisis. The Secretary of Homeland Security will establish a program to conduct security exercises, which will be scaled to meet the needs of specific transportation systems and must take into account the needs of seniors who utilize those systems. Additionally, another provision in this title will ensure that transportation agencies receiving grant funding in high-risk areas have mandatory security plans in place that must include appropriate evacuation and communication measures for the elderly as a component of each agency's plan. Both provisions are particularly important since so many of our seniors utilize public transportation for access to their everyday needs. Furthermore, only public transportation has the capacity to move millions of people and provide first responders with critical support in major evacuations of urban areas.
Mr. President, these four provisions will go a long way in ensuring that our seniors are taken care of if we have another national emergency or disaster. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita taught us many painful lessons that should never be forgotten. I will not forget, and I intend to pursue additional legislation aimed at explicitly safeguarding the needs of America's seniors in the event of an emergency. The time to act to protect our seniors is now.