Miller, Mihalek introduce legislation to increase western Urban Search and Rescue Team capabilities after Pittsburgh bridge collapse

Faster response needed to handle infrastructure disasters

PITTSBURGH, April 21 – The only type 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team in Pennsylvania is based in Philadelphia, leaving Allegheny County and much of western PA at risk of waiting hours for appropriate resources to be in place. Saving lives during an emergency is often a matter of minutes if not seconds, and while the current system in place handled the needs of the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse appropriately, two Allegheny County state representatives believe the commonwealth can do better and are introducing bipartisan legislation to create a second type 1 team based right here in Allegheny County.

“The emergency response to the Fern Hollow Bridge collapse was clearly top-notch and our local teams deserve credit for taking strong, quick action. Through all of this, I have learned that statewide urban search and rescue resources had to travel across the state to assist our local first responders,” said state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny/Washington, who co-authored the legislation with state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny. “We should use this opportunity to improve the process and make certain that our local agencies have quick access to every resource available to them.”

In H.B. 2492, this new team would assume primary coverage in western PA, with the same level of capabilities, resources and training in order to provide the same high-quality response of the Philadelphia based team. Both teams would be available for mutual aid and provide greater state capabilities should one team be mobilized to help out of state.

“We got lucky with Fern Hollow. But for the grace of God, no one was killed when that bridge let go,” said Miller. “The local responders were tremendous, coordination and leadership between the city and county was strong, yet resources still had to be shipped from the east in order to make sure there was no one trapped underneath, or that there was no loss of life. With infrastructure challenges, numerous bridges, floods, landslides, etc., we believe it is imperative that western PA have the same access to urban search and rescue resources as our neighbors to the east.” 

The legislators announced their bill at a news conference Thursday at the Upper Saint Clair Fire Department in Pittsburgh, where they were joined by local firefighters, EMS personnel and emergency response officials.

The two lawmakers stressed that their proposal would not take resources away from the existing search and rescue team, nor, they pointed out, was this in response to a failure by any agency – rather a reflection of the state’s broad geography.

“The simple fact of the matter is Pennsylvania is a big state,” Miller said. “And if, God-forbid, we have a disaster in Erie, we need to be able to get full resources there quickly. I want to thank Rep. Mihalek for recognizing the need for this legislation and for working with me to make sure western Pennsylvania has the resources it needs to respond when disaster strikes.” 

“I really want to thank Rep. Miller for his work on House Bill 2492,” Mihalek said. “Public safety and providing a swift response during emergencies are most certainly bipartisan topics and I look forward to working with all of my colleagues in the House and Senate to get this bill passed and eventually enacted.”