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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



S. 2863. A bill to provide that an outbreak of infectious disease or act of terrorism may be a major disaster under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5122 et seq.), and for other purposes; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce two pieces of legislation to address gaps in our preparedness and ability to respond to widespread infectious disease outbreaks and biological attacks.

The H1N1 outbreak demonstrated to us how investments in pandemic preparedness activities, such as the creation of pandemic influenza strategies, can lessen the effects of a pandemic and improve our response. However, we have learned from the H1N1 pandemic that we still have gaps in our ability to prepare for and respond to these types of events and that state and local entities are uncertain in their abilities to respond to a more severe event.

Apart from shortcomings in government coordination and planning, there is also a glaring deficiency in an important statute that underpins our nation's response to disasters. When a natural disaster such as flooding in Arkansas occurs, local and State government resources can be quickly overextended. When that occurs a governor can request and the President can issue a major disaster declaration, which triggers the maximum amount of resources from the Federal disaster response system.

Sometimes the system works well and other times not as well, but we know for certain that without a disaster declaration and effective Federal intervention a natural disaster can have devastating effects on life, property, and our economy.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of clarification of the definition of a major disaster in the Stafford Act, there is no precedent for the President to issue a major disaster declaration when local medical resources are overwhelmed by the exponential spread of life-threatening diseases, or alternatively, a deliberate biological attack by terrorists. The bills that I am introducing today will help to address preparedness shortcomings as well as the deficiency in law.

My first bill, S. 2863, entitled The Emergency Response Act, addresses this shortcoming in law. It will ensure the Federal Government can provide the maximum amount of support to State and local governments by allowing pandemics, acts of terrorism or other man-made disasters to be considered a major disaster under the Stafford Act. This clarification in law will permit the President to issue a major disaster declaration and allow Federal agencies to coordinate their efforts, give technical assistance, give advisory assistance, and work with local authorities and people in the private sector for events such as pandemics, biological attacks or chemical releases.

The second bill, S. 2864, entitled The Defense Against Infectious Disease Act, requires the Federal government to periodically update the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza and the National Pandemic Implementation plan with the assistance of State, Local and Tribal stakeholders in order to ensure our preparedness plans are up to date and incorporate the latest technologies, medical developments and logistical challenges.

This bill addresses concerns raised by the U.S. Government Accountability Office about both the completeness of these emergency plans and the need for them to be updated. Most Americans may not even know that these emergency plans exist, but they do understand that strong planning is the foundation for effective action. An out-of-date plan is not a plan, and after watching the spread of H1N1 and the missteps in our government's response, Americans can easily imagine what it would be like in the event of an even more serious disease outbreak, and the importance of planning for such an emergency.

This bill will also help address the situation I described previously in which a severe infectious disease outbreak can overwhelm our local medical facilities, many of which have limited resources to handle even their every day needs. To address situations which will over extend local resources, my bill also requires the Federal Government to identify alternative medical care facilities and other resources such as medical equipment, daily supplies and personnel to ensure we know what assets we have to help State and local communities.

The idea here is preparation. We should make the best of the H1N1 outbreak and learn from this experience. That is why I introduced the Emergency Response Act and the Defense Against Infectious Diseases Act. I ask that my colleagues support these bills to ensure that we are prepared for the next pandemic.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a bill summary be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:


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