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Congress approves federal employees assisting FEMA task forces: What that means for Missouri

   

Legislation championed by two Republican lawmakers from Missouri changing restrictions placed on federal employees wishing to help with search and rescue efforts following disasters passed the U.S. Senate Wednesday. It now awaits President Trump’s signature. 

The bill changes the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to specify federal employees can assist on National Urban Search and Rescue Response System task forces (US&R) operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

The bill, called the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act, was championed by Rep Vicky Hartler and Sen. Josh Hawley. Both are Republicans from Missouri. Sen. Roy Blunt was also supportive of the measure. 

Missouri Task Force 1 (MOTF-1), managed by the Boone County Fire Protection District, is one of 28 US&R teams in the U.S. It is staffed by more than 200 people and deploys dozens of individuals and canines when it’s called on to assist with disasters both in Missouri and out-of-state. 

Last year, MOTF-1 was deployed to help with the Category 5 Hurricane Michael which made landfall on the Florida Panhandle and was responsible for dozens of deaths. It also assisted with tornado relief in Jefferson City earlier this year, particularly with the collapsed Hawthorne apartments. 

“This bill will enable more Missouri Task Force 1 Members to be deployed,” Hartzler said in a statement. “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.” 

The 2016 National Urban Search and Rescue Response System Act inadvertently led to FEMA barring federal employees from assisting with task forces, supporters of Hartzler’s bill have 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,” Hawley said. “Disaster recovery efforts require all hands on deck, and passing this legislation will make that possible in Missouri and across the country.” 

“The brave men and women of Urban Search and Rescue are vital to saving lives and protecting property when disaster strikes,” Blunt, a Republican, said. “This bill will ensure federal employees can deploy with their team members when their called on to keep our communities safe.”

Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) also pushed for the bill in the Senate. 

Hartzler’s measure passed the House in April. The Senate approved it Wednesday.