After a cold, snowy winter, the Hoosier heartland is once again alive with the beauty of spring. Green leaves are beginning to fill the trees and flowers are beginning to blossom. However, spring is not only a time to appreciate nature, but also a time to prepare for the potentially dangerous storms that often accompany spring as well. In fact, May and June are the peak tornado months in Indiana.
As I was in Indianapolis last week, watching as hail fell and flood warnings were issued due to the storms, I was reminded that what we do in the Legislature truly impacts the lives of Hoosiers, especially when disaster strikes. I believe it is our duty to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to immediately deliver assistance to those in need.
That is why I was proud to sponsor Senate Bill (SB) 484 which would allow Indiana’s Task Force 1 to be deployed for disasters occurring in our state. Indiana Task Force 1 is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue Task Force based in Indianapolis. It is one of 28 national task forces and is comprised of emergency responders from fire departments in and around Marion County as well as civilians from various professional backgrounds across the state.
In times of disaster, FEMA will initially deploy the three closest task forces, giving them just six hours to mobilize. In the past, Indiana Task Force 1 has responded to the September 11 attacks in New York City as well as Hurricane Katrina. However, Indiana has not been able to use Task Force 1 as an in-state resource during an in-state disaster.
The City of Indianapolis is responsible for paying the members of Task Force 1 and seeking reimbursement from FEMA when they are deployed. Since FEMA will not deploy Task Force 1 within Indiana, this has meant that the city cannot get reimbursed when they send Task Force 1 to help, which actually occurred when Governor Daniels deployed Task Force 1 after the Henryville tornado.
After nearly unanimously passing the Senate, SB 484 passed the House last week with no amendments and will now be sent to the governor’s desk to be signed into law. If signed, it will allow the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to enter into an agreement with the City of Indianapolis to provide for the deployment of Task Force 1 in our state and also provide for reimbursements.
The expenses that are incurred can be anything from filling someone’s position while they are away to covering room and board expenses. With these pre-established agreements, the city of Indianapolis would know exactly how much they would be reimbursed for sending an EMT, for example.
During a disaster, I strongly believe that money should not be a barrier. This is a highly specialized group that we are blessed to have in Indiana, and it truly puts the city of Indianapolis in a tough spot to have to decide whether or not to send help to their fellow Hoosiers in need, or stay within budget.