May 16, 2019

Senator Hassan, Colleagues Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Support First Responders

WASHINGTON - Today U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), along with U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), introduced the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act to eliminate a misguided policy that currently prevents federal employees from assisting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) efforts.

US&R task forces are heroes who deploy after disasters such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, or gas explosions. There are 28 US&R task forces nationwide, including Missouri Task Force 1 which recently offered to help with flood recovery efforts in Missouri. The legislation introduced in the Senate today would cut through the red tape to allow all federal employees to participate in these task forces and help rebuild communities in need.

"FEMA's decision to bar federal employees from participating in US&R task forces doesn't make any sense. We should be encouraging more people to help disaster victims, not less," said Senator Hawley. “This legislation makes it clear that federal employees willing to volunteer in US&R disaster relief efforts should be allowed to do so.”

“The work these men and women do is challenging, dangerous, and vital to the safety of communities in Missouri and across the nation,” said Senator Blunt. “This bill will ensure federal employees can deploy with their fellow Urban Search and Rescue team members when disaster strikes. These first responders are an incredible asset during an emergency, and I encourage my colleagues to support this bill.”

“During my time as Governor of Florida, my state experienced a number of devastating hurricanes that required quick action on the local, state and federal levels,” said Senator Scott. “Search and rescue teams are a critical component of disaster recovery, and I’m proud to co-sponsor the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, which will give federal employees the ability to provide lifesaving help during times of crisis.”

“Federal employees who wish to participate in a search and rescue task force after a disaster should be permitted to do so,” Senator Hassan said. “Our bipartisan bill would make clear that FEMA may allow federal workers to participate in rescue efforts on the ground as they had been for years. I look forward to working with Senator Hawley to pass this commonsense, bipartisan bill that will provide FEMA access to more volunteers so that they can rescue survivors of disasters more quickly.”


BACKGROUND

The National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act is the Senate companion to Rep. Vicky Hartzler's National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, which recently passed the House of Representatives. 

The 2016 National Urban Search and Rescue Response System Act ensured that non-federal employees participating in Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces are provided certain federal protections from risks such as liability, personal injury, illness, disability, or death. Federal employees participating in US&R task forces do not require these explicit protections, because they are protected elsewhere in U.S. Code due to their full-time employment with the federal government.

Unfortunately, FEMA interpreted the new law to mean that federal workers are prohibited from participating in task forces. This is affecting US&R members across the country who are now prohibited from deploying to save lives.

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