On Wednesday, December 7, 2016, the House will consider the House Amendment to S. 2971, the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. S. 2971 was introduced on May 23, 2016, by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which ordered the bill reported on May 23, 2016. S. 2971 passed the Senate on November 30, 2016, with an amendment, by unanimous consent.
S. 2971 directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue administering the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. Specifically, the legislation codifies the System’s operational requirements and codifies workers’ compensation and liability protections for its members while they are deployed. The bill requires FEMA to provide for a national network of standardized search and rescue resources to assist state and local governments in responding to hazards and creates and establishes a task force. Finally, the bill extends reemployment rights to System members and requires FEMA to assess and deliver a report to Congress on the life-cycle replacement schedule and costs associated with maintaining System equipment, as recommended by the Government Accountability Office.
The House Amendment strikes “such sums” language to comply with House protocols.
Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) teams are spread out across the country and available for rapid deployment to assist in the location, rescue, and initial medical stabilization of victims trapped in confined spaces. As of 2016, 28 FEMA task forces located throughout the continental United States make up the US&R System. These task forces are comprised of career and volunteer first responders, including firefighters, engineers, medical professionals, and canine/ handler teams with specialized skillsets and training.
Liability and other protections for official actions under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) and compensation for work injuries under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act have been interpreted to extend to System members when deployed temporarily into Federal service and are generally memorialized through memoranda and interagency guidance.
Some US&R System members, like medical doctors, engineers, and heavy riggers, have the necessary skillsets to rescue survivors during a disaster, but are not State or local employees. During a June 2016 survey of 27 of the 28 search and rescue task forces, FEMA determined that approximately 14 percent of the US&R System members were not employed by a State or local agency. These System members do not have protections and safeguards to protect them from termination while they are deployed into the field for urban search and rescue operations and are at risk of losing their regular jobs after returning home from deployment.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates implementing S. 2971 would cost $110 million over the 2017-2021 period, subject to the availability of appropriated funds. Further, CBO estimates would not affect direct spending or revenues and would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2027.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-1828.