As is the case when we approach the end of a session and specifically before an end of session break, the committees empty their coffers and leadership moves what they think are must-pass bills to the floor. This week is no exception with over 40 bills in play in the House, some of which actually have something to do with running the country.
One bill in particular is promising; H.R.5859, the Community Counterterrorism Preparedness Act, that would spend $39 million yearly ‘to establish the major metropolitan area counterterrorism training and exercise grant program for emergency response providers to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the most likely terrorist attack scenarios, including active shooters, as determined by the Secretary, against major metropolitan areas.’
The first question about this bill is ‘what took you so long? Seriously, have we been slogging through the experience of terrorism or equally disorienting attacks made for any reason without properly trained first responders? One answer may be the increase in terror or terror-like events in New Jersey and New York over the week but the bill was introduced on July 14th, before the recent events. With that in mind the bill sponsor, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX-10), may have become aware of the need for such training, the absence of which is most certainly an oversight or at best a disturbingly slow process of figuring out we have a vulnerability to be strengthened.
It is more important to ask if the bill does the job and the answer is ‘almost’. What’s missing from this bill is a national blanket of well-trained first responders who can handle any terror event successfully. The bill provides grants to fire and police in major metropolitan areas (MMA). There are nearly 200 such MMA’s in the US which sounds like the whole country should be covered but it isn’t.>>
The clear evidence that the bill’s focus on MMA’s still leaves us vulnerable is the recent garbage can bomb in Seaside, New Jersey which is far from an MMA. Kudos to the quick response from local and then state and federal law enforcement but how would that have gone if the targeted foot race had started on time and the runners were subject to the explosion? If the failed attack had succeeded at a larger scale causing mass deaths and injuries and fire it would be the local fire department and emergency medical that would respond first. Are they prepared?
State, city, and county budgets are strained these days as city and county councils have to make budget decisions which include funding fire rescue and emergency medical units. Federal lawmakers need not look far to find city and county fire departments that are underfunded and that have not received grants for terror response training.
The logic about defending against terror attacks includes the idea that terrorist will target MMA’s because of the chance to kill or maim more people than in a sparsely populated area. The theory is borne out by attacks around the world over the years but this bill might change that. All sorts of people follow Congress including enemies so beefing up the MMA’s might force the would-be terrorist to find other ways to make an attack in an MMA or he / she could be equally effective concluding that HR 5859 leaves small towns wide open.
If we look only at the Seaside, New Jersey area we see that despite the small town and distance to any MMA there was an event planned that involved hundreds of people and in a way that many of those people, the target of the bomber, were at several times in one place and so subject to an explosion.
Having grown up on the Jersey Shore, where summer’s crowds give way to very local winter events if not to stir economics then just to kill the boredom of a Jersey Shore Winter, I have seen accumulations of people at local events large enough that a would-be bomber would consider large enough target to plan the attack.
Let’s not go short on the protections the bill offers.
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