|Norton Wants Hearing and Homeland Security Meeting Concerning Poor Response to Earthquake|
August 25, 2011
WASHINGTON, DC -- Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, which has jurisdiction over natural disasters and terrorist emergencies, today asked for a subcommittee hearing concerning the region's response to Tuesday's 5.8 magnitude earthquake. She said that in light of "the incoherent response of the region" on Tuesday, she also has requested the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to hold a meeting involving the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and regional homeland security representatives to consider better coordination between the federal government and the national capital region. "In the lead up to September 11th, just over two weeks from now, the demonstrated response from the federal government and the region was not much different from 10 years ago," said Norton. "Even considering the novelty of an earthquake, the communication and coordination we should expect by now for all hazards simply was not there and raises serious questions about the region's preparedness for a major disaster."
In requesting a hearing, Norton said that the major responsibility, and therefore the major blame, belongs with the federal government, not only because it is the region's largest employer, but also because it is the all-hazards homeland security authority. The earthquake occurred at 1:51 p.m., but agencies acted on their own concerning dismissal, and by 2:30 p.m., some agencies had dismissed their employees, while OPM did not send notice to officially dismiss federal employees until 4:00 p.m. "Even though it was an unprecedented earthquake, there was no excuse for the absence of federal communication and coordination," Norton said. "Ten years after September 11, 2001, there is still no central all-hazards site or communication vehicle widely known to the public and federal agencies." She said that "the point of preparedness is to prepare for the unexpected," and that there is but little evidence that the region is prepared for any hazard that requires disseminating information to the public or an unexpected evacuation from the District. Among the issues the hearing should focus on, said the Congresswoman, are what public and private employers should do if there is uncertainty about the structural condition of their building or neighboring buildings; what to do about aftershocks and explosions; how Metro and transportation officials can be prepared for a sudden or unexpected traffic jam; and how the region can use real-time simulations involving residents to prepare for an evacuation.