O’Neill Presides at First Chertoff/USCM Meeting, New Homeland Security Action Plan Released
By Ed Somers
October 31, 2005
The United States Conference of Mayors released its 2005 National Action Plan on Safety and Security in America’s Cities on October 24 following a two-day emergency meeting in Washington (DC). Led by Conference President Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, the special working group was comprised of top officers, relevant committee and task force chairs, mayors from the Gulf Coast region, and local public safety officials. Recommendations were made in five key areas:
1) Fixing the FEMA Disaster Response System
2) Military Involvement in Disaster Response and Recovery
3) Communications Interoperability
4) Enhanced Transportation Security
5) First Responder Funding – A Better Distribution System is Needed
When O’Neill assumed the Presidency in June 2005, she charged the Conference with reviewing and refining the 2001 National Action Plan developed after 9/11. This effort became even more urgent following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that devastated cities in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.
After two days of work, the Conference held its first meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, presented him the action plan, and discussed many of the recommendations in detail. This discussion focused on key areas such as the primary role of mayors and local public safety personnel as first responders, fiscal relief for cities devastated by the hurricanes, changes needed in the state-based Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) system, increased funding needed for first responders, greater support for interoperable communications, flexibility in the use of federal resources, and a stronger role for the military in immediate response efforts.
Chertoff Pledges Continued Dialog
Chertoff committed to continued conversations with the Conference. He and his staff recognized that changes are needed, and shared the concern of the group regarding the cumbersome and slow nature of the EMAC process. The Secretary also discussed issues related to strengthening FEMA, strengthening communications, and improving overall preparedness. He said he is working to improve FEMA’s ability to surge representatives into an area prior to and following a disaster, and to have better coordination with the military.
Central to the working group’s discussion was the need for mayors and local officials to have a process for ongoing, detailed discussions with the Secretary and Department of Homeland Security to continue to improve the federal-local partnership on preparedness and response.
O’Neill: More Work Needed
During the press conference following the meeting, O’Neill said, “After seeing first hand the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on Louisiana and the Gulf Coast area, and talking to mayors from this region, we recognize, more than ever, that much more work is needed in the federal-local partnership on disaster preparedness and emergency response. We have experienced a natural disaster that this country simply was not prepared for. We have learned that when it comes to disasters, whether man-made or natural, mayors must have a voice and a seat at the table because we are on the front lines of defense and emergency response. We are the first responders.”
Participating in the meeting were O’Neill, Homeland Security Task Force Co-Chairs Sugar Land (TX) Mayor David Wallace and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, Mayors and Police Chiefs Task Force Chair Gary (IN) Mayor Scott King, Meridian (MS) Mayor John Robert Smith, former Mobile (AL) Mayor Mike Dow, and police, fire and EMS personnel from these cities as well as Boston, Seattle and Louisville.
Expressing concern during the closing press conference regarding the $1 billion cut in first responder funding over the past two years and large sums needed from the federal government for first response in cities, O’Malley said, “All of the coordination in the world will not print those dollars.”
Smith added on Katrina relief, “It was so frustrating to know of needs and have mayors so willing to help that couldn’t do anything,” because of slow state action through the EMAC process.
The recommendations contained in the 2005 National Action Plan will be further discussed and refined during the 74th Winter Meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors to be held in Washington (DC) January 25-27, 2006.
The entire 2005 National Action Plan is available at usmayors.org. Following are some of the key recommendations:
2005 National Action Plan on Safety and Security in America's Cities
(Click here for entire plan)
I. Fixing The Fema Disaster Response System
- Congress and the Administration should implement a more focused process to work directly with mayors and first responders to review and make changes to the national disaster preparedness and recovery process.
- Congress must reverse its decision to make loans to cities hard hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, under the Disaster Assistance Loan Program, non-forgivable.
- Congress and the Administration should work with The U.S. Conference of Mayors to authorize a mechanism that would allow city-to-city mutual aid agreements to trigger reimbursement procedures and liability protection under the Stafford Act during an emergency.
- The federal government should utilize untapped resources through the development of specialized “go-teams” to respond to major events who could be the liaisons with local mayors, EMS, police and fire departments (at the executive level) to assist in the response of FEMA and other federal assets.
- The federal government should support funding for training on an all-hazards approach by allowing local jurisdictions the flexibility to quickly adapt and meet local needs, we will be better prepared to respond to natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as terrorist attacks we hope won’t come.
- Congress and the Administration must work with mayors to better define federal reimbursement and other policies related to housing, transportation, and health and human services for evacuees from disasters – and how these policies are coordinated across federal agencies.
II. Military Involvement In Disaster Response and Recovery
- The federal government should allow for greater military involvement in the immediate response to such overwhelming disasters, at the very least during the first days and weeks of response and when requested by local or state governments.
- Cities need a mechanism to request direct assistance in form of military assets during a major natural disaster or terrorist attack. It is too cumbersome for cities to have to go through the state apparatus.
- The federal government should identify a lead military agency to work directly with local governments on the deployment of federal resources needed immediately prior to and after a disaster.
III. Communications Interoperability
- Congress must make expansion of the communications spectrum for public safety a Congressional priority by establishing a firm date for the transition of analog broadcast to digital as close to December 31, 2006 as possible.
- Congress should provide urgent funding to assist cities and their first responders achieve full interoperability.
- Congress and the Administration should require cellular, VOIP and other advance telecommunications to provide 911, reverse 911 (preemptive) and other emergency communications.
- Congress and the Administration should provide the funding and infrastructure support for emergency first responder redundant telecommunications systems.
- Congress and the Administration should work with the military to provide redundant telecommunications communications systems for first responders during emergencies.
- Congress and the Administration must clarify that 3-1-1 systems are an allowable cost under its homeland security grant programs and to make explicit reference to 3-1-1 systems in the Authorized Equipment List.
IV. Enhanced Transportation Security
- Congress and the Administration should fund deployment of security and communications technologies including: Voice and video interoperable communication systems; Security cameras on-board public transportation vehicles and in bus and rail stations; Video surveillance and threat detection cameras; Increased surveillance via closed circuit TV; and Automated bus and rail locator systems.
- Congress and the Administration should fund security infrastructure expansion, modernization and rehabilitation including: Permanent chemical, biological and explosive detection systems; Fencing and barriers, lighting, alarms and access control for tunnels, bridges, interlockings, track, yards and facilities; Redesign of infrastructure to eliminate hiding places; And the life safety program in New York City and to rehabilitate existing Baltimore and Washington, D.C. tunnels.
- Congress and the Administration should clarify that federal public transportation security funding can be used for extra personnel during heightened alert levels, payment for overtime costs, reassignment of law enforcement officers and increased training for security personnel.
- Congress and the Administration should provide flexible funding of at least $6 billion, $2 billion per year over a three year period, to safeguard the nation’s bus and rail critical infrastructure.
- Congress and the Administration should provide full and flexible funding for port security needs including: Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Detection and Prevention Systems; Video Surveillance and Threat Detection Cameras; Fiber Optic Communications Connectivity; Access control communications; Command and control facilities; and Personnel and detection dogs for screening and checking cargo and passengers.
- Congress and the Administration should provide a federal funding mechanism to sustain the significant annual operating costs for the reoccurring maintenance of the new security systems and security personnel salaries that have not yet been identified.
- Congress and the Administration should direct the Department of Homeland Security to issue Letters of Intent for multiyear funding to ports with plans to carry out long-term security improvements.
- Congress and the Administration should direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct an assessment of freight railroad notification procedures for the transport of hazardous materials through local jurisdictions.
- Congress and the Administration should direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a coordinated system for notifying appropriate local first responders of the transportation of rail hazardous materials through local jurisdictions, including a rail carrier’s comprehensive list of all hazardous materials scheduled to be transported.
- Congress and the Administration should direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation to work with railroad operators to increase physical security measures surrounding shipments and storage of hazardous materials, with such increases to include the number of hazardous materials inspectors employed by the Federal Railroad Administration, lighting fencing, alarms and access control for tunnels, bridges, interlockings, track, yards and facilities.
- Congress and the Administration should significantly increase funding and reimburse airports at the statutorially authorized Federal share for in-line baggage and cargo screening system and airport facility expansion to accommodate in-line systems to streamline airport and TSA operations, reduce screening costs, and enhance security.
- The United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms our policy calling for a fully federalized workforce at points of passenger, baggage and cargo inspections.
V. First Responder Funding – A Better Distribution System Is Needed
- Congress should increase, not decrease, funding for key first responder grant programs.
- Authorizing legislation should ensure that the waiver of the Cash Management Act, approved by Congress for fiscal years 2005 and 2006, is made permanent, and made retroactive for fiscal years prior to 2005.
- Congress and the Administration should support the establishment of regional logistics centers, not only those previously established under the Pre-Positioned Equipment Program within ODP, but also additional capabilities to be established under regional control, to help consolidate State and local assets, provide life-cycle management and maintenance of equipment, allow for easy identification and rapid deployment during an incident, and allow for the sharing of inventories across jurisdictions.
- Congress should work with the Conference of Mayors to make other refinements needed to the first responder program.
- Congress should restore funding for key law enforcement/homeland security programs like COPS and the Justice Assistance Grant program, and allow Department of Homeland Security first responder funding to be used for hiring and overtime for police, fire, and EMS personnel.
- Congress should amend the current state-based system for distribution of federal first responder assistance to provide a significant portion of the funding directly to cities and local areas.