Report: First responders lack funds to handle catastrophic attacks

Bureaucratic red tape and a lack of standards have resulted in woefully inadequate funding for first responders, according to a study released Monday by the Council on Foreign Relations.

The inadequate funding from government for first responders ? police, fire and emergency medical personnel ? has put them in the precarious position of being unprepared to handle a catastrophic attack on American soil, said the New York-based nonpartisan research group.

The federal government is expected to provide about $27 billion for first responders over the next five years. Additionally, state and local agencies likely will spend between $26 billion and $75 billion for first response.

But first responders will need about $98 billion more than what is planned, the group said.

If the nation doesn't take immediate steps to better identify and address the urgent needs of first responders, the next terrorist incident could be even more devastating than Sept. 11, 2001, the group warned.

Former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., and Richard Clarke, President Bush's former cybersecurity chief, led the 20-member task force that wrote the report, "Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared."

In response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security stressed that it has already provided substantial funding to first responders and will continue to provide billions more in the months and years ahead.

"This department has distributed more grant money [to first responders] than ever before," said Gordon Johndroe, a DHS spokesman.

He said the department is distributing the money based on threat information and not on formulas used before Sept. 11, 2001.

The task force met with first-responder organizations across the nation to determine what additional programs they truly need to establish a minimum effective response to a terrorist attack involving biological, radiological, nuclear or high-impact conventional weapons.

The task force identified two major obstacles to the nation's emergency preparedness efforts. First, a lack of standards for equipment and technology is making it difficult for first responders to know what they need and how much it will cost.

Second, funding for first responders has been stalled because of a politicized appropriations process, slow distribution of funds by federal agencies, and bureaucratic red tape at all levels of government.

The task force's recommendations related to standards include

  • Congress should require the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to submit a coordinated plan for meeting identified national preparedness standards by the end of fiscal 2007.


  • To address the problem of sidetracked funds, Congress should require Homeland Security to work with other federal agencies to streamline grants and reduce unnecessary duplication, and to establish one-stop shopping for state and local authorities seeking grants.


  • Congress should ensure that all future appropriations bills for first responders include strict distribution timelines.


  • DHS "has already undertaken, completed or is in the process of working on most of the recommendations in the report," Johndroe said.

    The unmet budget needs from fiscal 2004 to 2008 are:
  • $36.8 billion for fire services

  • $15.2 billion for urban search and rescue

  • $29.6 billion for hospital preparedness

  • $6.7 billion for public health

  • $10.4 billion for emergency 911 services

  • $6.8 billion for first responders

  • $3.3 billion for emergency operations centers

  • $2.1 billion for agriculture emergency response

  • $1.4 billion for emergency medical services systems

  • $1 billion for emergency management planning and coordination

  • $300 million emergency response regional exercises.



  • The budgetary figures are based on estimates provided by the Emergency Responders Action Group comprising two dozen organizations, including the Council of State Governments, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

    About the Author

    William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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