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Commentary: UASI Funding Cuts are Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Budget cuts and fiscal challenges have impacted all emergency responders across the county. As more and more is being asked of the men and women who serve and protect our communities, these same individuals are being told that their funding is being cut, or in some cases, eliminated.

The cuts are coming from all angles: the Federal government has arbitrarily eliminated over 50 percent of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) communities for FY2011. Federal funding for local homeland security grants are seeing cuts much greater than any other Federal programs.

Now that the cuts have been made and the funds are no longer available to these eliminated communities, the political figures are stepping up and asking for changes related to the elimination of the 33 UASI communities. The UASI program provides funding to address the local planning amd training for high threat, urban areas. My only question is, where were they when those involved with the process were asking for their help in preventing the changes in the first place?

At the state and local levels preparedness is beginning to take on a second class status. In the name of balancing budgets, staffing and training for our emergency responders are taking drastic hits. The current round of cutbacks will have long range consequences that in time will cost these communities even more than the current cost of a position or program.

By not maintaining the skills acquired over the last  10 years, or failing to properly update emergency plans and training programs, we are in essence throwing away the money spent to bring us to our current level of preparedness. Much of the emergency response preparedness training and programs that have taken place since the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 have come from grant funds.

These current cuts may be penny wise for this fiscal year, but are pound foolish for all as we go forward.

When you read though the various response plans it appears that the goal is to have the local communities capable of assisting themselves in the case of a disaster. The burden of this cannot lie solely on these communities to make this a reality. There has to be collaboration between all levels of government to make this happen. If the funds that have been dedicated to this process go away all that has been gained will, in time, be lost.

Many of the arguments from those involved in the UASI program have revolved around their desire to prepare for the terrorist event that we all fear since Sept. 11. Those who maintained their funding reasoned that it was important that they get more of the pie to continue their programs while those who were left to fend for themselves argued that they also had real potential in their communities and they should also be afforded the opportunity to prepare for these events.

To that end the real fear in my life is not of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaida, my greatest fear is of Mother Nature. As long as we continue to marquee terrorism as our reason to prepare we have surely missed the bus to reality.

All-hazard preparedness is where we should be focusing our efforts and the funding that makes the efforts a reality. To prepare for terrorism alone leaves us vulnerable to the devastation that Mother Nature has hit hundreds of communities across the country with in just the first five months of this year. If we take on a dedicated path to prepare for all-hazards events we will not only be better prepared to respond to these catastrophic events that Mother Nature has brought upon us, we will also be able to respond to the terrorist event if and when it takes place.

I would not want to be a community leader that has to go on camera and explain to their residents why they were not prepared for the attack that just took place by Mother Nature because it was not a priority when the money pie was being divided for this fiscal year. As a citizen I also do not want that same person to be taking a walking tour of my community if this event was to hit my home and tell me that they are here for me. That is not when we need them; we need them before it happens and we need them to do the right thing by providing our emergency responders the funding and support to prepare for that event.

BOB DUEMMEL, the technical rescue editor for Firehouse.com and Firehouse Magazine, is the host of "The Buzz on Technical Rescue" on Firehouse Podcasts. He is captain of the Special Operations Unit of the Rochester, NY, Fire Department and serves as the Plans Manager for NY TF-2. He is a member of the NYS USAR IST in the Operations Section and a member of the New York State Technical Rescue curriculum development team. He has delivered training to fire service, industrial, military and international rescue teams and has assisted with exercise evaluation for the United Kingdom and the European Union's USAR program. View all of Bob's articles and podcasts here. He can be reached via e-mail at bob.duemmel@firehouse.com.

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