Lawmakers provide update to efforts to enhance search and rescue operations in western Pa.

Faster response needed to handle infrastructure disasters

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 11 – Surrounded by local emergency responders and city and county officials, state lawmakers on Tuesday provided an update on bipartisan efforts to enhance urban search and rescue capabilities in western Pennsylvania. The bipartisan group, led by state Rep. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny and state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Allegheny/Washington, have been working to pass legislation to establish a second Urban Search and Rescue team in Pennsylvania.

“Enhancing our urban search and rescue capabilities in western PA is critical to providing timely, life-saving response. This build out was actually a recommendation following the 9-11 attacks, and it is needed now more than ever as our state deals with the challenges posed by an aging infrastructure,” said Miller. “While we appreciate our friends in the east, it is simply time that western PA mirrors their rescue capabilities. If you are buried under rubble you may wish that full urban search and rescues resources weren’t stationed solely in Philadelphia.”

While time is running out on this year’s legislative session, the group was able to negotiate almost $5 million in funding for the program as part of the 2022-23 state budget. The lawmakers said they plan to reintroduce their legislation in the state Senate and House next year.

“All of us want and deserve safe communities, where help arrives quickly in times of danger or distress. It’s critical that we fully fund the programs that ensure that all our first responders have the training, tools, and resources necessary to find and rescue members of our community,” said Costa. “I am proud to support the Urban Search and Rescue team here and help close significant equipment gaps to better serve the residents and visitors of the western commonwealth.”

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 new team would assume primary coverage in western PA in order to provide the same high-quality response as the existing team based in Philadelphia. Both teams would be available for mutual aid and provide greater state capabilities should one team be mobilized to help out of state.

“When experiencing any sort of a disaster, our constituents expect a quick and efficient response and are not concerned with partisan politics or bureaucratic red tape,” said Mihalek. “We have a well-trained and dedicated group of fire, police and EMS personnel in our area. It’s the General Assembly’s job to make certain that these professionals have everything they need when an emergency occurs.”