Senator James L. Seward, Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and members of the senate majority conference today unveiled a comprehensive package of legislation that would greatly enhance the ability of state, local governments, businesses, and New York citizens to prepare and respond to any type of catastrophic event, whether man-made or natural, by requiring counties to enact preparedness plans, establishing standards for evacuating and sheltering nursing homes during emergencies, and increasing penalties for individuals who tamper with nuclear power plants.
Seward chaired the special senate panel on state and local emergency preparedness formed after 9-11 that developed a list of recommendations for state preparedness.
The legislation was announced at a Capitol news conference and comes in the wake of a report released by the federal government "Katrina: Lessons Learned," which served as a wake-up call that New York must focus on preparedness now, before the eye of the storm is upon us. The Senate package covers a wide range of disaster preparedness issues, reflecting a shift in the mission of homeland security to an "all-hazards" approach in which localities must be prepared for all manner of disaster.
"With windstorms, hurricanes and even a weakened high hazard dam in Gilboa in my district, the need for significant advanced planning is obvious," Seward said. "The images on TV from New Orleans should motivate us all to do what we can to enact effective and coordinated strategies for dealing with disasters."
"We have all seen pictures of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina but New Yorkers have experienced first-hand the life-threatening dangers caused by hurricanes, floods, ice storms, tornadoes and even the violent winds that ravaged Saratoga County just last month," Senator Bruno said. "We’ve learned that sometimes the terrorist is Mother Nature, and these bills will help all of us be better prepared to react, respond and protect lives and property from disaster."
"Many lessons were learned from Katrina, but New York has its own lessons," said Senator Michael Balboni (R, East Williston), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs. "We’ve had our share of catastrophe, and these lessons teach us that we must be prepared."
Senator Balboni received a White House briefing last week on the Hurricane Katrina report. He also recently authored a report, After the Storm…New York’s State of Readiness which exposed major vulnerabilities in the state’s homeland security and emergency preparedness systems. A number of the bills in the Senate emergency preparedness package announced today were first recommended in the report.
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS PACKAGE OF BILLS
The Senate will act next week on the following legislation:
Local Disaster Preparedness Plans – Central to the senate’s package is legislation (S.179-A, Balboni) requiring county governments to put preparedness plans in place now, before disaster strikes. Under current law, it is the responsibility of county governments to develop and implement plans, but the law is short on details. This new bill clarifies what steps must be put in place to provide optimal protection for New York’s citizens, including, an assessment of the county’s health care infrastructure, an updated roster of volunteer medical personnel, identification of a local stockpile of pharmaceuticals, and a strategy for identifying and coordinating emergency services organizations in the wake of a disaster.
Protecting Nuclear Power Facilities from terrorists – (S.180, Balboni) Would create additional criminal penalties against unauthorized individuals who intentionally interfere with the safety operations of a nuclear powered electric generating facility. The bill creates the crime of criminal trespass in the first degree and provides additional prosecutorial discretion to charge an individual guilty of criminal trespass in the first degree with a crime of terrorism if they trespassed with the intent of committing a terrorist act.
Continuity of Government – Succession to Governor – (S.177, Balboni) Would amend the defense emergency act by delineating people eligible to succeed the governor in the event of a man-made or natural disaster, similar to presidential succession. The legislation also allows for the filing of interim vacancies in the state legislature due to disasters.
Emergency Announcements in Multiple Languages –(S.184, Balboni) Would require that emergency announcements be made in multiple languages so that all New Yorkers will be informed during times of crisis.
The senate will act in the near future on the following legislation:
Port Security – The package of bills includes legislation that would close existing security gaps at the Port of New York and New Jersey. The legislation was recommended by the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, whose mission is to investigate, deter, combat, and remedy criminal activity and influence at the port. With approximately 40 million people living within 50 miles of the Port of New York, the consequences of a terrorist attack would be devastating.
The legislation would:
> Expand the waterfront commission’s ability to revoke or deny a license or registration to port workers associated with terrorism, racketeering or other organized crime groups (S.6822, Balboni);
> Strengthen the commission’s ability to revoke or deny a license or registration of port workers who are associated with illegal drug activity; and
> Allow the waterfront commission to obtain disclosure from witnesses outside of the commission’s jurisdiction of New York and New Jersey. The commission has conducted numerous investigations in which out-of-state witnesses have refused to appear. This bill will give the commission great subpoena power.
Last week, Senator Bruno announced the creation of a new Senate Majority Task Force on Port Security, which will be chaired by Senator Frank Padavan, and will include Senators Michael Balboni, Vincent Leibell, John Marchi, Serphin Maltese, Martin Golden and Senator Nick Spano. The task force will hold hearings on port security issues.
Anthrax/Biological or Chemical Threat Reporting –(S.3968, Balboni) Would require reporting of chemical, biological, and radiological threats to the state police. The state police would use the information to establish a centralized database that would identify trends or patterns, enhance perspectives of future response needs, connect related incidents that may cross jurisdictional/investigative agency boundaries, and provide a statistical compilation for additional federal funding justification for New York State.
Allow Pharmacists to Dispense Vaccines – (S.3516, Spano) Would allows pharmacists to perform influenza immunization.
Pet Friendly Shelters – Under this bill (S.6913, Balboni) counties would be required to take into consideration those with pets when they consider where and how they will shelter people when they develop their disaster plans. During Hurricane Katrina, many people refused to evacuate their homes because shelters refused to allow pets.
Generators at Gas Stations– Would require motor fuel dealers to maintain a generator for use during a power outage (S.6733, Balboni) and would create a tax credit for service stations for the purchase of a generator for use in emergency situations (S.6732, Balboni)
Civil Liability for Falsely Reporting an Incident – (S.1568, Rath) Would establish restitution in the event a person or government entity has been convicted of falsely reporting an incident involving the use of hazardous substances or materials. This type of compensation was designed for local governments throughout the state that have been victimized by false reports of hazardous substances.
Increase the Penalties for Impersonating a Police Officer – (S.4688, Fuschillo) Would increase the prison sentence for those who commit serious crimes while also impersonating a police officer or peace officer.
Standards for Nursing Homes During Times of Disaster – (S.6912, Balboni) Would require the state Office of Homeland Security, in conjunction with the state Department of Health, to develop standards for nursing homes on what to do during a disaster emergency. This includes standards for food and water, keeping generators and staffing levels during the disaster. During Hurricane Katrina, several people died at St. Rita’s nursing home when the power went out and staff didn’t show up.
Public Hearing on Avian Flu – This Friday, the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee in conjunction with the Senate Committee on Health will conduct New York State’s first public hearing on the potential of an avian flu pandemic in the state and its level of preparedness for such an outcome. The hearing will take place in Mineola on Long Island.