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PEMA Video Transcript

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, who among us will ever forget the images of total devastation, human suffering and confusion? As the nation watched, the failure of government intervention at all levels became the overriding fear.

Now more than ever, our citizens need reassurance that whenever a catastrophe strikes in Pennsylvania help will be swift and services will be restored in a timely coordinated manner.

For the past 55 years, PEMA, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has coordinated the response of all state agencies to every disaster, whether natural or man-made, from the Floods of Tropical Depression Ivan to the terrorist acts of September 11th. Established by law and signed by Governor John S. Fine in 1951, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has a long tradition of aiding the 67 counties of this commonwealth and the citizens who reside here.

The Bureau of Planning and Training does just what its name says…plans and trains for a disaster in the state of Pennsylvania, whatever that disaster might be. It is the responsibility of this bureau to ensure that PEMA is ready to respond in a moment’s notice to everything from floods and fires to even bio-terrorism. And while it may seem like a daunting task to prepare for so many unknowns, many plans are written to apply to all hazards, regardless of whether they’re natural or man-made. The goals of this bureau are stated right in its name…to have effective disaster plans and staff who are prepared to deal with any emergency. Staff from the bureau of planning and training prepare planning models and arrange for training classes to ensure that citizens and businesses alike are equipped to handle a crisis. And useful information, such as sample plans, is posted and continuously updated on the PEMA website to keep the public informed and aware.

The Bureau of Operations stands as the core of all crisis management in the state. Here, at the state Emergency Operations Center, information about potential disasters, natural or man-made, are monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This communications hub examines events and incidents occurring daily within the state, from chemical spills to road closures to disaster damage information. Once a significant incident is reported, the bureau of operations notifies PEMA staff and area offices, the Governor, all 67 counties, other state agencies. Satellites, radios, telephones and computers have all been set up strictly for the purpose of getting the word out efficiently in an emergency. And when immediate action is necessary, the Emergency Alert System is activated. Home and business damage are typically the result of severe weather, such as floods, hurricanes or tornados. The Bureau of Operations is the first step in the recovery process for the people of this state.

After a crisis has passed, it’s up to the Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation to get the people and businesses of the Commonwealth back on track. With extensive training in crisis management, planning and military experience, the staff of the Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation are the first on the scene after a disaster to assess the damages and help the victims begin the long path to recovery. As we all witnessed with Hurricane Katrina, sometimes you don’t have the time or the means to get out or harm’s way. And that’s when you lose everything. The Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation helps those most affected by a disaster begin to reassemble the pieces of their lives. Individual assistance can begin immediately after the federal government declares the area a disaster. Disaster recovery centers can be set up in the declared communities. It’s here that individuals can register for new driver’s licenses, birth certificates, apply for food stamps, and even apply for financial aid until the crisis passes and they’re able to get back on their feet. The torrential rains and gale force winds of Tropical Storm Ivan caused flooding in 56 counties throughout Pennsylvania. Homes were destroyed, businesses were damaged and roads were ruined by the high, fast moving waters. PEMA deployed staff from the Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation and other state agencies out into the field to assess the damage and help these small counties and townships get the money they desperately needed to restore their communities to pre-disaster conditions. In the post-disaster environment, the Bureau’s Hazard Mitigation staff works closely with local governments to reduce the loss of life and property by moving homes that qualify, out of flood prone areas.

In the midst of a crisis, it’s critical that the emergency response of PEMA is ready. And without the dedicated staff of the Bureau of Technical Services, this response might not be so timely. It’s up to them to maintain all the technology we rely on so heavily, including the communications, information technology and 9-1-1. Unlike most state agencies who rely on vendors to maintain the operational capability of their communications and IT systems, PEMA performs the majority of these functions with agency personnel. For PEMA, there’s no calling a vendor at 2am to respond to a disaster. The nature of emergency management makes it necessary to have this expertise readily available within the agency. Unlike other state agencies where personnel are highly specialized in specific areas, this staff is multi-talented and cross trained to perform a variety of technical functions such as responding to any disaster at a moment’s notice and providing emergency communications where none existed before. In addition to their technical services, this bureau is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the statewide Emergency Alert System, also known as E-A-S, broadcast on over 300 radio and television stations statewide, as well as all 67 county emergency management offices and 9-1-1 centers. The E-A-S system is the primary alerting system for getting emergency warnings, including the AMBER alerts for missing children, to the public. And as new advancements in emergency response are made, the people of the commonwealth will rely even more heavily on technology to aid in the effective response of the state government to emergencies. It’s up to the Bureau of Technical Services to keep PEMA on that cutting edge.

Once the Bureau of Recovery and Mitigation has done their job, it’s up to the Bureau of Administration to make sure the counties and people who have been affected by the disaster receive their benefits as quickly as possible so they can begin to rebuild. And with the increased public awareness caused by Hurricane Katrina and September 11th, 2001, there’s even more for this bureau to accomplish. Because when the other 4 bureaus get busy, the Bureau of Administration gets even busier. It’s up to them to know what everyone else is doing and to manage the funds and equipment that make the other jobs possible. Within this broad description, the Bureau of Administration’s responsibilities break down to five core functions: The Processing of Grants from the Federal Government to the state of Pennsylvania as well as issuing grants from the state level to the various counties and municipalities around the Commonwealth. Overseeing PEMA’s annual budget submission to the Governor’s office and keeping the budget on track for all five bureaus. Purchasing the equipment that the other bureaus need to make PEMA effective such as the fly away kits filled with everything from laptop computers to the pens and paper used to set up remote offices throughout the state after a disaster has hit the state. Maintaining and managing the offices and vehicles of PEMA. And finally securing all the equipment for the nine task forces and other state agencies as it relates to the federal homeland security grant as well as providing the training for those task forces in the event of any state hazard. PEMA also works with the State Office of Homeland Security to ensure the safety of 12.5 million Pennsylvanians. Together, PEMA and OHS assess potential threats to Pennsylvania and develop plans to counteract those hazards.

Originally established in 1976, the Office of the State Fire Commissioner was created to facilitate a working relationship between the state and its numerous fire departments. In 1995, the Fire Commissioner began meeting the diverse training, operational, and informational needs of the Commonwealth’s fire and emergency service community. Among its many other duties, the Fire Commissioner’s Office runs the State Fire Academy in Lewistown and oversees the state Volunteer Loan Assistance Program which provides volunteer fire companies and emergency services with low interest loans.

PEMA is closer than you may think. With offices in Hamburg and Indiana as well as Harrisburg, PEMA staff can react quickly to any call all throughout the Commonwealth.

No matter what the crisis, no matter where the catastrophe, PEMA, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, is prepared to support when called. With 5 bureaus overseeing every aspect of emergency response, PEMA assists the government, businesses and the communities to get back on their feet when disaster strikes.