Report: First Responders Underfunded by $100 Billion by 2008

Promises to first responders to give them the funds needed to keep American communities and their residents safe after the 9/11 attacks appear to ring hollow, according to a new report from the First Response Coalition.

The nonprofit and nonpartisan group says police, fire and EMT needs will be shortchanged by about $100 billion through 2008.

"America's First Responders and the Federal Budget: A Study of Rhetoric Versus Reality" bases its estimate of the $100 billion shortfall only on budget figures for the Department of Homeland Security and does not take into account any cuts to first responder funds that reside in other federal departments. The report notes congressional and administration promises "for full funding for first responder needs such as additional personnel, new equipment and interoperable radio systems, appear to be rhetoric with insufficient subsequent action. The complicated federal budget process and a surprising lack of commitment by elected officials have resulted in this less-than-adequate funding and a continuation of obstacles that hinder first responders – an overall trend of declining federal support was found."

Commissioner Bill Fox of the Metropolitan Fire Association of New York City, said, "Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11th, the United States government and people from all sectors of our society praised the dedication and sacrifice of the nation's first responders. With these accolades came a promise of increased funding, better equipment and expanded training to better prepare first responders for potential future disasters and improve America's first line of defense. Unfortunately, that glowing rhetoric has turned into a bitter reality in which the promised funding is not being delivered."

First responder funding goes to many different programs that provide resources for activities such as hiring new personnel, purchasing new equipment, developing training programs and updating communications networks to achieve interoperability. According to the report:

  • Fire departments across the country have only enough radios to equip half the firefighters on a shift, and breathing apparatuses for only one third.
  • Police departments in cities across the United States do not have the protective gear to safely secure a site following an attack with weapons of mass destruction.
  • Mmost cities do not have the necessary equipment to determine what kind of hazardous materials emergency responders may be facing.

"In the less than 4 years that have passed since Sept. 11th, the federal budgets for first responder grant programs have been reduced. These results do not match the urgency contained in many of the continued public remarks on the topic. In addition, first responders who have equal needs find themselves competing for shrinking resources. In addition, they spend enormous amounts of time preparing detailed applications for these limited funds. The bureaucratic grant distribution process is an additional and unwarranted hurdle for first responders," said Gene Stilp, president, Dauphin-Middle Paxton Fire Co. #1 in Dauphin, Pa. The First Response Coalition is calling on Congress to honor its promise to provide the necessary support for First Responders. According to the report, two immediate steps that are needed from Congress:

  • Freeing up more spectrum for public safety. The DTV transition will only provide an additional 24 megahertz (mHz), when it is considered likely that more will be needed as spectrum uses moves beyond voice into data/video.
  • Encouraging the development of regional interoperability solutions similar to a successful program developed in Virginia. Centrally coordinated and designed communication systems that actively involve input from first responders on the ground are the most successful, and can reduce the cost and improve efficiencies as the systems are upgraded over time.

"It is simply wrong for policymakers to promise needed funds to first responders and then fail to deliver," said Todd Main, director, First Response Coalition. "This puts communities and first responders that protect them in danger. The needed money should flow directly to the communities. It is the responsibility of both political parties to live up to their promises."

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