House bill could speed deployment of Task Force One

Monday, January 27, 2014 | 6:55 p.m. CST; updated 7:05 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — A House bill co-sponsored by area representatives would allow the Boone County Fire Protection District Board to deploy Missouri Task Force One and authorize funding over social mediums and without public notice. 

A quorum of the board could come to a decision via telephone, email, text, the Internet or voice and electronic devices. Currently, a quorum requires the members meet in person.

The additional mediums wouldn't exclude carrier pigeons, joked David Griggs, the chairman of the Boone County Fire Protection District Board.

Missouri Task Force One is one of only 28 Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue Teams in the country specialized in deploying emergency responders for major natural disasters. They locate and provide medical care to victims in collapsed buildings. They are deployed to sites of earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks and infrastructure accidents. When they respond to a disaster, at least 62 people and four search dogs can be deployed. 

Costs of deployment could add up to $1.2 million, which the five-member Fire District board must authorize, Griggs said. These funds are kept in reserve and are later reimbursed by FEMA or Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, depending on which agency requests the assistance.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, co-sponsor of the bill, pointed out the problem: The task force must deploy quickly in the case of a disaster, but the board must first meet and vote to expend the funding. Reaching a quorum of at least three members on short notice is not always easy, he said. The process can be significantly slowed.

The task force is required to be on the road four hours after receiving the request or within six hours if forces will be transported by air. 

Griggs cited an instance last year when the board was almost unable to meet in response to the flooding in Colorado. One of the five board members was undergoing chemotherapy; another was unable to meet. Griggs said that he barely made it to the meeting in time.

Griggs went to local lawmakers, asking for their help. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, sponsored the bill with co-sponsors Kelly, Caleb Jones, R-California, Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, and John Wright, D-Columbia, jumping aboard as a cohesive force. 

"In emergency situations, (the task force) needs to be pretty nimble and move pretty quickly," Rowden said later Monday after the hearing. "This would give them a little bit more of an opportunity to do that."

Kelly brought HB 1300 in front of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee for Rowden, who was unable to attend the hearing because of personal reasons.

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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