USFA UPDATE

BY R. DAVID PAULISON

As I travel across the country, many fire service leaders ask me where the United States Fire Administration (USFA) is headed and what role will it have in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As I write this, much has changed. The USFA has been brought into the core of the FEMA family. It is part of the decision-making process, and the fire service has been recognized as the core of our homeland security. The USFA is now also responsible for managing the Urban Search and Rescue Program and FEMA’s Training Division, which includes the Emergency Management Institute.

As FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh has said many times, “For too long, firefighters and first responders have been first in line for budget cuts and last in line for recognition.” President Bush is committed to changing that perception through the First Responder Initiative he announced as part of the 2003 budget. The initiative, which would be managed by FEMA, includes $3.5 billion-a 1,000 percent increase-in federal aid to local first responders to enhance the following:

  • Planning: $105 million to help local communities plan for and respond to terrorist attacks;
  • Equipment: $2 billion for first responders to purchase a wide range of equipment;
  • Training: $1.1 billion to train first responders to respond to terrorist attacks; and
  • Exercises: $245 million to support training exercises to assess and improve local response coordination and capabilities. [Editor’s note: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at press time had approved the First Responder Terrorism Preparedness Act of 2002 (S. 2664). See News in Brief in this issue.]

And these totals do not include this year’s $360 million Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. We will be distributing these grants throughout the summer and into the fall, and I encourage you to watch the USFA Web site for the latest information.

Firefighters, police, and emergency services are the first-in, last-out, front-line defense of America’s homeland security.

It may not be possible for us to ever thank first responders enough, but I think making sure they have the resources and tools they need to do their job is a good place to start. I look forward to implementing the President’s First Responder Initiative and working with Director Allbaugh to bring this unprecedented investment in emergency planning and response to communities around the country.

CORE MISSION HAS NOT CHANGED

Today we live in a changed world. The tragic events of September 11 have changed the way we view the past and the future. It is true in each of our personal lives, in our places of work, and at FEMA. Our world has changed, and we know we must do whatever it takes to be prepared for the next challenge. But whatever it takes means we cannot abandon the hard work we have done to protect ourselves from natural disasters. This work must include preparations and planning for both natural and man-made events.

I want you to know that FEMA and the USFA’s core missions remain the same as they were last year. We must prevent the loss of life and property by working with states and communities to address their risks, and we must reduce the loss of life from fire for elder Americans and young Americans. We must also make a firm commitment to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities. I call on you to redouble your efforts on firefighter health and safety, accountability, and driver training. The USFA is committed to helping you in that effort.

Our mission has only grown more urgent as we try to strengthen our homeland security, in support of Governor Tom Ridge and his team. Our part of homeland security is to give communities the tools they need to be more prepared for any disaster that might come their way.

Prior to September 11, Director Allbaugh laid out three primary goals for FEMA, which are built on a solid foundation. I believe all of these still apply today: We must continue to prepare for and build our capabilities to respond to catastrophic disasters of any kind, we must continue our efforts to reduce damage from disasters through disaster mitigation, and we must work to enhance the capabilities and resources for our nation’s fire community.

Throughout all of these areas lies a common thread of continuing our long-standing commitment to heightening the country’s readiness to respond to natural and man-made disasters. But the USFA and FEMA cannot do it alone. We cannot be successful without your support or without the leadership you bring to create strong working partnerships at the local level.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE

The federal government has a responsibility to assist you, not to replace you. We must partner with you and the states to provide the technical tools, training, and expertise necessary to address all risks and meet the associated challenges you face.

FEMA has used the Federal Response Plan for an average of 53 federal disaster declarations each year over the past 10 years. We have experience and programs that help you and your community identify and reduce all hazard risks through training, planning, and exercises. FEMA/USFA has been training your first responders for more than 20 years through the Emergency Management Institute and the National Fire Academy.

FEMA has a very helpful guide called the “Guide for All-Hazard Emergency Operations Planning” that we like to call our “template” for local planning. It is free and an available resource to give you a start in planning for all hazards in your community.

The new FEMA Office of National Preparedness will be producing the following for the Office of Homeland Security and our local, state, and federal partners:

  • A state and local responders federal grant/program guide,
  • A state and local responders federal training guide, and
  • A state and local responders exercise guide.

The WTC/Pentagon event again noted the age-old problem of poor radio and cellular communications between emergency services units and command posts at the scene.

Lack of interoperability between all aspects of emergency response has continually hampered operations. Even FEMA/USAR assets were having significant communications problems.

The federal government needs to take a role in developing spectrum and communications systems that work together at major incidents. There is no simple resolution to this question. The Federal Communications Commission is looking at increasing the public safety spectrum. The Department of Treasury is leading a task force, with FEMA/USFA participation, on the federal aspect of the communications problem. The current focus centers on interoperability of first responders and narrow banding. FEMA/USFA have had and are having meetings with major communications manufacturers to look at technology to address this problem.

National Emergency Services Credentialing must also be explored. Self-dispatch of emergency services of all kinds to the WTC site caused significant problems for New York City and the federal response agencies. Many of those who showed up were not trained, certified, requested, or of any help. FEMA/USFA, in cooperation with the state and the emergency services associations, need to develop a program for a national emergency services credentialing system to document emergency responder qualifications and provide an ID tag for those responders. These programs would assist in reducing uninvited responders and provide better emergency scene security.

Working with the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) Committee, FEMA/USFA and the states need to strengthen the intrastate mutual-aid programs. In some states, this is going to require legislation.

Standardized state and regional mutual/ automatic-aid plans would be helpful. Also, attention and training must include focus on the problems with maintenance of long-term “campaign” emergency operations that will go on for extended periods of time.

It is increasingly clear that cooperation between the emergency management community and the fire services needs to be strengthened and encouraged. Although at the local level, the emergency manager many times is the local fire chief; at higher levels, there is often a disconnect. Improved cooperation should include the development and delivery of joint training and cooperative agreements. Resources directed at terrorism preparedness should have a strong fire services component.

Currently, there is no secure means for providing first responders with important, uncompromised information. Obviously, this void could severely hamper effective fire service operations in a terrorist environment. We need to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies to resolve this issue.

THE FEDERAL RESPONSE PLAN

We have to communicate with all response and supporting agencies at every level of the Federal Response Plan, which is the framework for the federal support that they will need in terrorist events. It is important that all local fire and public safety agencies and their staffs are aware of the plan and how it meshes with their state, county, and local planning. There should also be training and exercises to ensure understanding and the ability to work within this structure.

The nation and the fire service need to take a strong look at incident management. We cannot manage incidents with entities that have unique or different incident command or incident management systems (ICS/IMS) or with those entities not operationally conversant with the standard incident management system. We need to work toward an institutionalized common ICS/IMS throughout the country.

But ultimately, the most important partnership you can create is with your community. Your planning for effective prevention and response will demonstrate to your community how the plans should be followed in their own homes and businesses.

Share with your own community what the others are doing to be prepared. Let them know what you expect from them to make the plan work. I challenge each of you to work within your communities to help identify your risks, develop plans to address those risks, and ensure the safety and viability of your fellow citizens. Together, we will be successful in preparing for and addressing the risks not only from fires and natural disasters but also from the heightened challenges from acts of terror.

R. DAVID PAULISON is United States fire administrator. A 30-year veteran of the fire rescue services, he most recently served as chief of Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue. Previously, he rose through the ranks to serve as rescue lieutenant, battalion commander, district chief of operations, division chief, assistant chief, and deputy director for administration. He is a certified paramedic. Paulison has a bachelor of arts degree from Florida Atlantic University and completed the Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and holds positions in several professional associations.

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