Wolf Administration Discusses Need for Flexible Disaster Emergency Declarations – Governor Tom Wolf

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Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) today discussed the need for flexible disaster emergency declarations ahead of next month’s primary election when Pennsylvanians will choose whether the commonwealth should continue with its existing disaster declaration process or create a new one.

“These two amendments, if passed, have the potential to drastically impact the ability to effectively respond to and recover from disasters and other emergencies in the future,” said PEMA Director Randy Padfield. “These are not single-issue items nor should these proposed amendments be solely viewed through the lens of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Padfield was joined at today’s press conference by PEMA Deputy Director for Recovery Steve Bekanich. Bekanich worked at for the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency for more than 25 years and served as the county’s emergency management coordinator for eight years.

“As a county emergency management coordinator, I saw how the emergency disaster declaration that was in place for Tropical Storm Lee in 2011 helped cut through the red tape to allow temporary housing to be set up without placing an additional financial burden on people who had already lost everything to the flooding,” said Deputy Director Bekanich. “Being able to request and get state support in a timely manner makes all the difference for a county and its municipalities to protect and help the people we serve.”

Padfield said that the vast majority of disasters in the commonwealth have been weather related, such as flooding, snow and ice storms. However, the threat and hazard landscape also continues to change and today’s county, state and federal emergency managers must also plan for civil unrest, threats from domestic violence extremists, and large-scale cyber security threats that have the potential to impact critical infrastructure and systems.

“The threats we face are becoming more complex, and our ability to respond must remain flexible enough to meet the preparedness, response and recovery responsibilities that the executive branch of government is responsible for,” Padfield said. “While most natural disasters are short-lived, they have a long and complex recovery period that can take weeks, months, or even years.

“Without a state disaster declaration, it becomes difficult to justify that a disaster exceeds the state’s capability to respond effectively, which potentially jeopardizes much-needed access to federal assistance available through the Stafford Act for those disasters that rise to meet federal criteria for financial reimbursement.”

The federal incident period for Tropical Storm Lee was from September 3, 2011 through October 15, 2011. Reimbursements to state, county and municipal governments for expenses under the federal Public Assistance Program total more than $147 million dollars. Financial assistance to disaster survivors under the Individual & Households Program total more than $103 million provided to 25,406 applicants. 

More recently, 23 counties received Public Assistance funding after a snowstorm in January 2016. Federal funds dispersed to date related to this incident total $44.8 million. 

So far for the COVID-19 disaster incident, the federal government has obligated $282.3 million to eligible Pennsylvania applicants to reimburse costs for eligible expenses.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Ruth A. Miller, PEMA: [email protected]

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