9/11 Commission's Conclusions On Preparedness Must Be Heeded

Washington, D.C. - The General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO/CLC, Harold Schaitberger, issued this statement on the report of the 9/11 Commission and its conclusions about our country's preparedness to respond to a future terrorist attack:

"It is very encouraging that the 9/11 Commission is focused on the preparedness of our nation's first responders to take action in the event of another attack, and I encourage our president and Congress to act on their recommendations, rather than delay. The bi-partisan approach the Commission took to its work is the only approach that is effective in creating action that actually helps the American People.

"My concern is that the Bush administration will take the Commission's report and be long on rhetoric and short on action. That concern is grounded in the fact that President Bush has had three years to prepare our nation to respond appropriately, with the assistance and guidance of two separate independent reports in his hand - one from the United States Fire Administration and one from the Council on Foreign Relations - and he has squandered the opportunity.

"The previous independent reports clearly showed that our emergency response capabilities are critically under-funded, and our first responders are under-staffed, under-trained and ill-equipped. And the president's response has been to provide almost $15 billion less per year than one of the independent reports said our country needed to prepare.

"Originally, Bush opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and fought against it. Then, even after we tried to work with his administration, President Bush set up a system where the state of New York, which was attacked and which Bush administration officials continue to cite as a target for a new attack, only received $5.42 per person in homeland security money in 2003, while the rural state of Wyoming was awarded $37.94 per capita.

"Even after 9/11, the president attempted to eliminate a program that provides local fire departments with the resources they need, and he continues to oppose a program that would put fire fighters in communities that have too few. His 2005 budget cuts homeland security funding for first responders by $700 million from current levels.

"The Commission's recommendation to create an incident command and communication system that works and to establish a funding system that recognizes high-threat areas --such as New York City and the Washington Metropolitan area ­ and takes into account population and density, is crucial. If followed, these recommendations will be the foundation of a real strategy for responding to an attack and saving lives.

"I wish I could say that those responsible for responding to an incident are safer and more prepared today, but I can't. While our fire fighters and paramedics will respond bravely to any incident, as they do, every day, and as the 343 who lost their lives at Ground Zero did, unless real changes are made, there won't be enough of them, and our responders won't have the proper equipment or training, and people will die as a result."

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