HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Members of the Wolf Administration held a press conference Thursday to discuss the need for flexible disaster emergency declarations in order to quickly and effectively prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.
PEMA Director Randy Padfield and PEMA Deputy Director for Recovery Steve Bekanich will both attend the conference. Bekanich has worked for more than 25 years in Luzerne County Emergency Management.
This press conference comes ahead of the May primary election, where Pennsylvania voters will have two questions on the ballot to discuss changing the Governor’s powers during emergency declarations. Republican members of the Pennsylvania government are arguing that currently, the Governor of Pennsylvania has too much power during disaster declarations.
Many Republican leaders believe the Wolf Administration’s view on the ballot questions to be a scare tactic.
In response, “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.”
“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.”