Guest Commentary: Focus on Terrorism Preparedness Leaves Fire Service Vulnerable to Natural Disasters

Dec. 5, 2014

Budget cuts and fiscal challenges have impacted all emergency responders across the county. As more and more is being asked of the men and woman 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% 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, political figures are stepping up and asking for changes related to the elimination of these 33 UASI communities. 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 past 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 9/11 have come from grant funds.

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

Reading through the various response plans, it appears that the goal is to have 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 it 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 centered on their desire to prepare for the terrorist event we all have feared since 9/11. Those who maintained their funding reasoned it was important that they get more of the pie to continue their programs, while those who were left to fend for themselves argued they also had real potential in their communities and they should also be afforded the opportunity to prepare.

To that end, the real fear in my life is not of terrorists; 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 with which Mother Nature has hit hundreds of communities across the country so far this year. If we take a dedicated path to prepare for all-hazards events, we would not only be better prepared to respond to these catastrophic events that Mother Nature has brought upon us, we would also be able to respond to terrorist events if and when they take place.

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