PA’s emergency code is over 20-years old; Here’s how PEMA would fix it

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s been over 20-years since Pennsylvania updated its Emergency Management Services Code.

That’s why state and local agencies are making a push to bring the code into the modern-era.

Rick Flinn, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Emergency Management (PEMA), says his group updates their disaster plans regularly (with official updates every 2-years). But he says current state law doesn’t match-up with the disaster planning needs of today.

Proposals are now on the table at senate committee meetings to amend the code, also known as Title 35, and a vote could be decided in just a few weeks.

Written in 1996, state agencies say the code isn’t modern enough in a post 9/11 world. The changes proposed include adding the Department of Homeland Security, which was created after 9/11, to the list of groups who may be recruited to help during a disaster.

State agencies are also calling for workers compensation for volunteers, who are currently only eligible for a stipend of a few hundred dollars if they’re injured. PEMA says volunteers may work for days and weeks during a disaster – and that those folks deserve better aide from the state.

Another request: A statewide disaster fund. As of right now, no disaster fund exists in the Commonwealth. Instead, the state must wait for disaster funding approval from the federal government.

Flinn says the biggest issue he has with the old code is that it doesn’t do enough to help communities recover after a catastrophe. He says the law should give more clarity on how the state should function for the days and months after a disaster strikes.

“I use the phrase ‘Day 2.’ That’s where we need to focus our efforts to get disaster survivors what they need,” said Flinn.

If the amendments are approved, PEMA says they would have more power to streamline the disaster response process. They say they’d also be able to give other agencies and municipalities clarity about what their responsibilities are during a crisis.

A vote for the amendments, also know as SB 1019, is expected in a few weeks.

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