REP. WELDON INJECTS DOSE OF REALITY DURING HEARING
ON FEDERAL RESPONSE TO TERRORISM:
Challenges Federal Officials On Readiness Of First Responders
(Washington, DC) - On November 4, Congressman Curt Weldon (PA-07) chaired a hearing of the House National Security Subcommittee on Military Research and Development to ascertain the military’s training of first responders in the area of terrorism incidences. Much of the focus centered on reviewing the progress of Nunn-Lugar II, federal legislation which authorized the federal government to prepare this country for terrorist attacks including the training of first responders in the top 120 metropolitan areas in the country.
The much ballyhooed initiative, although popular within some circles, has not generated the same level of enthusiasm from Rep. Weldon. Throughout the hearing, he cited that the initiative falls short in responding to the early stages of a terrorist incident, when first responders must act alone. In addition, he lamented that DOD’s train-the-trainer program, although has merit, falls short in providing the needed equipment to fire departments for responding to chem-bio incidences. Rep. Weldon admonished the panelists for suggesting that fire departments (particularly volunteer departments) can afford to pay for the equipment out of their existing budgets.
DOD officials refused to give a specific answer regarding the National Guard’s role, an issue that has received considerable attention from many fire officials. Without offering specifics, they suggested that the Guard would be integrated into the program in order to maximize their resources and expertise.
Rep. Weldon often alluded to the Omnibus Fire Service legislation that he plans to introduce in opening days of the second session. The bill would provide a national hands-on training center for urban search and rescue-something the federal government does not currently provide to first responders, and an economic package that would allow first responders to upgrade their apparatus and equipment. In addition, he forewarned the panelists about his plan to hold either a field hearing or another hearing in Washington to verify their statements made during the hearing. The panelists will include fire chiefs from urban and rural communities who will offer their evaluations of the Nunn-Lugar program.