Today the United States Senate passed the Hawley-Hartzler National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act to support first responders. The bill is a response to a misguided policy that currently bars federal employees from assisting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) efforts.
Among the 28 US&R task forces nationwide is Missouri Task Force 1, which has offered assistance everywhere from tornado relief in Jefferson City to hurricane relief in Florida, Alabama and North Carolina. This bill cuts through senseless red tape and provides FEMA access to more volunteers so they can get to disaster areas faster and rescue survivors faster.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said, “I’m pleased that Congress was able to come together to reverse this misguided decision by FEMA. Ensuring that federal employees can act as first responders in US&R task forces will save lives. Disaster recovery efforts require all hands on deck, and passing this legislation will make that possible in Missouri and across the country.”
Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) said, “This bill will enable more Missouri Task Force 1 Members to be deployed. I am so proud of this dedicated group of volunteers who put their lives on the line in times of disaster to help others. It was imperative we fix this glitch in federal law so all dedicated volunteers can be deployed. I am grateful this bill has moved through the Senate and I look forward to the President signing it into law.”
Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, “The brave men and women of Urban Search and Rescue are vital to saving lives and protecting property when disaster strikes. This bill will ensure federal employees can deploy with their team members when their called on to keep our communities safe. I’m glad this measure passed the Senate with overwhelming support and is now headed to the president’s desk.”
Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said, “I was proud to co-sponsor the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, and I’m glad my colleagues in the Senate approved it today. 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. Search and rescue teams are a critical component of disaster recovery, and this important legislation will give federal employees the ability to provide lifesaving help during times of crisis.”
Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) said, “When a community is struck by disaster we need all hands on deck to help with search and rescue operations, which should include federal employees who want to participate in those efforts. I am encouraged that this commonsense, bipartisan legislation to allow federal employees to join a search and rescue task force has cleared the Senate, and I urge the President to sign this bill into law without delay.”
Hawley introduced the Senate companion to Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, which passed the House of Representatives in April and the Senate passed today.
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.