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Durbin tells DHS chief Chertoff Bush budget puts city, state at risk

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This release from the office of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)

As the number two Democrat in the Senate, he has the ability--more than other senators--to get a one-on-one meeting. President Bush sent his proposed fy 2007 budget to Congress last week.


From Durbin's release...
[WASHINGTON, D.C.]- U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today met with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to discuss security issues critical to the safety of Illinoisans.

“Emergency management officials from Illinois have told me that the priorities in the President's budget could undermine efforts to protect the people of our state,��? said Durbin. “I wanted to discuss my concerns directly with Secretary Chertoff and urge him to find a way to help Chicago and other cities in Illinois prepare for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.��?

In the meeting, Durbin expressed serious concerns about the impact of the President’s 2007 budget on Illinois’ ability to respond to natural disasters and terrorist threats. He also brought up Chicago’s need for funding to ensure port security and the need for better evacuation planning across Illinois.

Durbin noted that the City of Chicago is the third largest city in the country and a hub for the nation’s transportation network. Yet, the port of Chicago, one of the busiest in the country, was not included among the top 66 ports eligible to apply for port security grants. “How do you explain including Milwaukee and not Chicago?��? Durbin said.

Durbin also expressed concern that Chicago was not certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for an urban search and rescue team and that the city’s first responders, and many downstate, do not have interoperable communications equipment. Interoperable communications equipment would make it possible for first responders, such as firefighters and law enforcement officers, to communicate with one another.

“The funding cuts in the President’s budget will also make it harder to equip and train local firefighters and police officers,��? said Durbin.

Durbin noted that while most cities and states have basic evacuation plans in case of terrorist attacks or natural disasters, state and local officials may not be adequately prepared to address the actual conditions they might face. The lack of training makes it difficult to address miscommunications that can take place during actual disasters and to recognize gaps in service, shortfalls in the stockpiling of needed supplies, and bottlenecks in evacuation plans.

Durbin also discussed legislation he introduced last fall that addresses the need for greater assistance for disaster planning. Durbin's bill, the Mass Evacuation Exercise Assistance Act, would establish a $250 million a year grant program that will allow states to develop comprehensive evacuation plans, stage drills and exercises to practice and perfect evacuation procedures and stockpile materials needed to supply evacuation staging areas and evacuation routes.

According to the Illinois’ Emergency Management Agency and the National Emergency Manager’s Association, only a limited amount of homeland security funding can be used for evacuation planning, and that money is generally earmarked for essential personnel, with little money left for the planning and staging of evacuations. Durbin’s bill addresses this issue by creating a separate stream of money for preparedness planning.

Following the meeting, Durbin said that he was hopeful that Secretary Chertoff would take his concerns to heart.

"Our first responders and emergency preparedness officials back home need to know that the Department of Homeland Security will provide them with the tools they need. That was the message I gave to the Secretary. While I think Secretary Chertoff understands our challenges, only time will tell if the federal response will be adequate," said Durbin.


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 16, 2006 4:41 PM.

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