THE MAGAZINE

State Perspective: Pennsylvania

By Matthew Harwood

How does PEMA work with the federal government, specifically DHS and its component FEMA?

FEMA is without a doubt our partner. PEMA and every other state emergency management agency relates to FEMA on a day-to-day basis. All of our grant funding—whether it’s homeland security state grant money or emergency management program grant dollars or special things like the FIRE Act grants that go directly to municipal governments—comes through FEMA. One of our roles here at PEMA is that we are the State Administrative Agent (SAA) for the state on behalf of FEMA. We are the fiduciary of all grant funds that flow into Pennsylvania. We are joined at the hip with FEMA as it relates to emergency response, recovery, mitigation, and preparedness.

What are the most important things PEMA spends federal money on?

The first part comes from what is called the Emergency Management Program Grant (EMPG). State homeland security grants have been cut tremendously, cutting through the skin and the muscle. The bone is the EMPG. That’s the thing that allows us to prepare for consequence management, regardless of what causes the event. So we fought very hard at the state level and with our national organization, the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), to protect those grant funds. Those are very specific, and that’s the money that we use to fund the county emergency management operations. Remember that all disasters and all emergencies are local. They start locally and they end locally.

Now if you look at the state homeland security grants, as long as there was a homeland security nexus, you were able to use those dollars as dual-purpose dollars to prepare to respond to terrorist activity but also to a natural disaster. That’s why we refer to all hazards, and so those dollars have been very important. I’ll give you a specific example. When we had these terrible floods that covered two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties this year, we had to move resources from the western side of the state and stage them in the center of the state so they could respond to the flooding in the northeast and southeast parts of our commonwealth. Those resources—swift-water rescue boats, search and rescue teams, EMS agencies—were purchased with homeland security dollars.

Part of the tragedy of what’s happening with homeland security dollars is that we have built tremendous capacity in the United States with these dollars in the last 10 years, but there’s no money now to sustain capability that we’ve built. Like so many other federal programs in the past, things fall into disrepair. Last year, homeland security dollars to the state were cut 50 percent. This year, the omnibus budget that just got passed, we had expected there to be about $1.2 billion nationwide for state programs. It’s about $634 million, and a number of the programs funded in the past with that money have now been left to the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security. One of those is called the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI). We have two UASI cities in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I don’t know if the secretary’s going to fund the top five, the top 10, the top 15, we just don’t know.

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