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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • First Responder Identification of Emergency Needs in Disaster Situations

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2015-12-10

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    JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I rise in support of H.R. 2795, the First Responder Identification of Emergency Needs in Disaster Situations, or the FRIENDS Act, as we have been very happy to call it as we have crafted it.

    First responders are our Nation's heroes. We know that we are gathering together in these final weeks to make sure that we pass the 9/11 health bill that provided for those who stood in the face of danger during the tragedy of 9/11.

    We know that first responders run into burning buildings, that they rescue people trapped by dangerous floods, that they put themselves in harm's way to protect others, and that, as we well know in these times, they deal with terrorism.

    Just last week, in San Bernardino, we saw brave first responders heroically pursue two individuals who were fleeing from the scene of a deadly attack at an office holiday party.

    We also know that, at the site of that incident, we saw a massive number of first responders who were going toward the building. Not knowing the threat or whether or not the individuals who had created this massacre were still there or how many there were, they ran toward the building.

    To do their jobs, first responders must leave their homes and families while the rest of us cling to ours. Whether it was to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack, like the attacks of September 11, or to give support during a catastrophic disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, first responders bravely leave home to save others.

    I had firsthand experiences of both of those incidences, one, a natural disaster and, one, a terrorist act.

    I watched as firefighters stayed day after day after day and would not remove themselves because they were engaged in recovering their colleagues--their brothers and sisters--and those others who had perished. They stayed day after day.

    That was a great hardship on those families. We know the stories. We know that some of them were dealing with situations in which they may have been the only parent or the only guardian.

    In the situation of Katrina, I saw the Coast Guard stay in the area time after time and the National Guard and other first responders come from all over the country and from even all over the world to be able to help those who were in need, and they stayed a very long time.

    Unfortunately, today first responders are asked to answer the call to action without knowing whether their families will be safe as they work to rescue others. Our first responders deserve better.

    {time} 1615 The FRIENDS Act directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of policies and programs designed to ensure that first responders are able to do their job safely and effectively by assessing, among other things, measures to ensure first responder families are safe and the availability of personal protective equipment is there.

    During committee consideration of the FRIENDS Act, my friend from New York (Mr. Higgins) offered an amendment to authorize GAO to evaluate the availability of home med kits for first responders and their families in assessing the preparedness of first responders, maybe even being able to take care of their neighborhood or their family or themselves in the course of these disasters. I am pleased to support the Higgins amendment, and I believe it adds to the bill.

    H.R. 2759 also directs GAO to distinguish policies available in high- risk urban areas, which may be better resourced, and rural areas where efforts to ensure preparedness for first responders and their families may require creative leveraging of resources. Many of those areas have volunteer fire departments and volunteers who need the assistance from this act. This provision will ensure that the information included in the report will be applicable and adaptable by various communities across the country as they work to better protect their protectors and to give them the support system that they need.

    Additionally, the FRIENDS Act directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to review GAO's findings and assess whether policies identified could be applicable to Federal first responders. The FRIENDS Act has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, as well as the National Association of State EMS Officials, and the International Emergency [[Page H9259]] Management Society, along with others.

    Before I conclude, I would like to thank Ranking Member Thompson and Chairman McCaul for their help in bringing this important legislation to the floor. Let me also thank the ranking member and chairman of the emergency preparedness committee and all of jurisdictional committees that helped contribute to this. Let me also acknowledge the staffs on both sides of the aisle who were enormously effective in helping to bring about this bill.

    I want to thank Mr. Hoyer, who for many, many years was a co-chair of the Congressional Fire Service Caucus on which I participated with him over those years, for his stated support of this legislation.

    Mr. Speaker, as a senior member of the Homeland Security, and the author and sponsor, I am proud to rise in strong support of H.R. 2795, the ``First Responder Identification of Emergency Needs in Disaster Situations of 2015,'' or the ``FRIENDS Act.'' I thank Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Thompson for their cooperation, assistance, and support in shepherding this important legislation to the floor.

    I appreciate Congressman Payne, the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications, for his original co-sponsorship and strong support of the FRIENDS Act.

    The FRIENDS Act embodies the important and fundamental idea that we have an obligation to ensure that the first responders who protect our loved ones in emergencies have the peace of mind that comes from knowing that their loved ones are safe while they do their duty.

    The FRIENDS Act, which reflects stakeholder input and bipartisan collaboration with the Majority, is an example of what can be achieved for the American people when Members of Congress put the public interest ahead of partisan interests.

    I thank the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of State EMS Officials, and the International Emergency Management Society for their valuable assistance and input regarding the FRIENDS Act.

    I thank Kay Goss; the President of the International Emergency Management Society, who provided technical assistance during the bill's drafting process on the work of first responders to prepare for catastrophic events.

    Kay Goss was Associate FEMA Director in charge of National Preparedness, Training, and Exercises during the Clinton Administration, the first woman confirmed by the Senate to serve in that position.

    I am passionate about the work of those who dedicate themselves to public service.

    I hold in high regard the service of firefighters, law enforcement officers, emergency response technicians, nurses, emergency room doctors, and the dozens of other professionals who are the ultimate public servants.

    Few persons outside their ranks truly understand why and how first responders are able to do what they do every day--voluntarily and cheerfully risk placing their lives in harm's way to save a stranger.

    First responders, whether as law enforcement officers, fire fighters, search and rescue workers, or emergency medical technicians make our lives safer, often at considerable risk to their personal safety.

    H.R. 2795 provides Congress an opportunity to let our first responders know that we do recognize and understand that they have families and loved ones who they must leave behind when they are called to duty.

    The GAO study that will be provided as a result of this bill will shed light on what is being done by local and state governments to address the needs of first responder families when threats like Hurricanes Sandy, Hugo, and Katrina hit communities, or when a terrorist attack like the ones seen in New York and Boston occur.

    The report called for by the FRIENDS Act will also provide information on the availability of personal protective equipment for first responders.

    The issue of personal protective equipment was an acute problem for front line first responders during last year's Ebola crisis.

    First responders including EMTs, emergency room doctors and nurses, as well as law enforcement and fire department professionals who responded to emergencies were in need of guidance on how to effectively treat a person with Ebola without becoming infected.

    I joined members of the House Committee on Homeland Security in a Full Committee field hearing last year in Dallas, Texas, shortly after the first case of Ebola was diagnosed in the United States.

    That patient, Eric Duncan, lived in the Dallas area and was treated at a local hospital, but died of the illness.

    As a result of coming in contact with Mr. Duncan two nurses at the hospital where he was treated became ill with the disease.

    During the Dallas field hearing, I brought to the attention of the House Homeland Security Committee a letter from National Nurses United transmitting the results of a survey of nurses, which found that: 1. Nearly 80 percent of respondents agreed that their hospital had not communicated to them any policy regarding potential admission of patients infected by Ebola; 2. 85 percent of respondents agreed that their hospital had not provided education on Ebola to enable nurses to interact with patients safely; 3. One-third of respondents reported that their hospital had insufficient supplies of eye protection (face shields or side shields with goggles) and fluid resistant/impermeable gowns; and 4. Nearly 40 percent of respondents agreed that their hospital did not have plans to equip isolation rooms with plastic covered mattresses and pillows and to discard all linens after use; fewer than 1 in 10 respondents reported that they were aware their hospital had such a plan in place.

    The Centers for Disease Control and a few hospitals around the country with infectious disease units knew the right protocols and had the right protective gear to be used when treating an Ebola patient.

    Ebola in the United States was a frightening thought for many, but I think we saw the best of what first responders do each day--our doctors and nurses went to work and treated the sick and did what they always do--take care of those in need.

    In unanimously reported the FRIENDS Act favorably to the House, the Homeland Security Committee voted to support first responders and the people who love them and need them most, their families.

    The FRIENDS Act will help ensure that our healthcare workers, EMTs, firefighters, law enforcement, and other local, state, and federal first responders can answer the call of duty secure in the knowledge that they will have what they need in the way of health kits or an emergency response plan to enable them to perform their duty and return home safely to their families and loved ones.

    The GAO's comprehensive review of the range of policies and programs in place at the State level to address the preparedness and protection of first responders will also delineate high risk urban areas from rural communities; and the degree to which selected state policies were developed or executed with funding from the DHS Grant Programs or Urban Area Security Initiative authorized by the Homeland Security Act.

    The GAO Report's focus on the presence of the family of first responders in an area affected by a terrorist attack and the availability of personal protective equipment is essential.

    This will be the first report that focuses on the family as a critical factor that should be considered in the work of first responders during times of crisis such as a terrorist attack or public emergency.

    The issue of families in areas that may be impacted by terrorist attack or other crisis was highlighted by the Ebola crisis in Dallas, Texas last year.

    According to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who managed the crisis, one of the chief concerns of first responders was keeping their families safe.

    Judge Jenkins recounted that discrimination against first responders and their families was a real concern because it was known that EMTs and the firefighters accompanying them responded to the home of the first known Ebola victim in the United States, Eric Duncan.

    People were so fearful for themselves and their children's health regarding possible means of contracting Ebola they did not want their children attending a school with the child of first responders who might come into contact with Ebola victims.

    For this reason, Judge Jenkins requested the Commissioner of Public Health, the top Ebola expert in the United States, and the Dallas County Medical Society explain to the public that there was a zero percent chance of transmission of Ebola in that scenario.

    In Dallas County and around the nation first responders expressed concerns regarding their lack of knowledge about the disease, as well as not having the right type of protective equipment to ensure their safety in managing the care of possible Ebola victims.

    These are certainly factors that one would expect to weigh on a first responder called to respond to a terrorist attack or unprecedented emergency.

    The bravery or dedication of first responders is not in question-- they are the people who run into burning buildings to save people whom they may never have met.

    The FRIENDS Act is a small token of the nation's gratitude and appreciation for all first responders do keep us safe.

    Finally, Mr. Speaker, I wish to acknowledge and thank Natalie Matson and her colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee's majority staff, Moira Bergin and her colleagues with [[Page H9260]] the Minority staff, and Lillie Coney of my personal staff for their technical expertise and great work on H.R. 2795.

    I urge all Members to support the nation's first responders and vote to pass H.R. 2795, the FRIENDS Act.

    I reserve the balance of my time.

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