State Perspective: Pennsylvania

By Matthew Harwood

Glenn Cannon is Director of Pennsylvania’s Emergency Management Agency (PEMA). PEMA coordinates state agency response to support county and local governments in the areas of civil defense, disaster preparedness, planning, and response to and recovery from man-made or natural disasters.Cannon previously served as the senior vice president in the Pittsburgh office of Hillard Heintze LLC, Strategic Security Advisors, where he provided consulting related to homeland security and emergency and disaster management and communications. Before that, Cannon served as an assistant administrator in the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he was in charge of disaster operations and was responsible for the development and execution of interagency plans and procedures in response to presidential disaster and emergency declarations. Cannon has also served as the county manager and chief operating officer of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and as the executive director of Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and director of the Department of Public Safety for the city of Pittsburgh. Cannon received his bachelor’s degree in education from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, his master’s degree in public management from Carnegie-Mellon University, and his J.D. from the Duquesne University School of Law.

What are your responsibilities at PEMA?

My job is to coordinate the state’s response to disasters or emergencies, whether they are “notice” or “no-notice” events. We are missionaries of prevention, protection, response, recovery, and mitigation. Pennsylvania has 67 counties, and in each of those counties, we have emergency management staff. Pennsylvania is a commonwealth: we have over 2,600 local governments, and under state law those local governments are also required to have an emergency management agency. So we have lots of planning and training to do for both the local and the county organizations. And we also operate the state’s emergency operations center, so when something does happen, that’s the place we gather and share information about that event and coordinate the response. We are the commonwealth’s consequence manager, and we don’t care what causes a situation.

What are the threats facing Pennsylvania, both natural and man-made? 

If you look at 20 years of natural disaster presidential declarations, they’re mostly flooding events and snow emergencies. And along with that, we had a record-breaking year with tornadoes this year. Our floods were severe. You have to go back 39 years to find storms that were as devastating to the commonwealth as we had this year. We had an earthquake in late summer. None of us in this area had experienced that before. It got a lot of folks’ attention.
Of course, on the other side, because of our nuclear reactors, you could have a man-made event that would be significant. We had Three-Mile Island here in Pennsylvania. Folks in the Harrisburg area have great memory about that event, so that’s part of why we do nuclear-plant exercises every other year with our five locations. And, of course, there always the potential unknown, the event that we just don’t know about: the terrorist attack that could occur on one of those nuclear plants or any one of our other critical infrastructure or key resources that we have in the commonwealth.

In your opinion, what threats or vulnerabilities that affect the state are given too little attention?

There’s a trend occurring at the federal level right now that as the dollars lessen, there’s more and more focus being put on terrorist activity than on all hazards. If you look across our country in the last year or two, whether they were tornadoes in Alabama; an ice storm in Tennessee; a tornado in Missouri; or flooding in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and New England; the resources that we have been able to put in place with homeland security dollars that were for all-hazards have allowed outstanding responses to those events. If we lose track of that and focus just on a terrorist event, then we will not be as prepared as we are today.



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