Bill would turn six closed bases into emergency shelters
February 16, 2009
A Florida congressman wants to give a half dozen closed-down military bases new life in order to save lives.
U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., has proposed a bill that would turn six shuttered military bases nationwide into national emergency centers.
Those centers would provide temporary housing, medical and humanitarian assistance to people displaced by an emergency or natural disaster; furnish sites for first responders, government, nonprofits and faith-based organizations to coordinate a response; and serve as training centers. The bill is being called the National Emergency Centers Establishment Act.
"The congressman thought there would be an opportunity to set up emergency locations at six locations around the country to help people during emergencies," said Lale Mamaux, Hastings’ chief of staff. "I think that it is really quite critical as we saw with Hurricane Katrina … the response was terrible.
"The purpose of this is to have something in place in the event of a natural disaster," Mamaux said. "Having the resources to put something right in [a closed] base and assist people in a timely matter is important."
Such centers would be ideal in places like California because of wildfires and Florida with its hurricanes, she said.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said they can’t comment about proposed legislation or whether such centers are needed. But they pointed out that FEMA already has eight logistical centers and distribution warehouses around the United States and three off-shore storage sites where emergency supplies of food, blankets, generators and other items are stored.
"On shelters, we work with the states on that and they select the designated areas that would be shelters," said Ashley Small, a FEMA public affairs specialist.
FEMA may not have national emergency centers nationwide like what Hastings is proposing, but it does have urban search and rescue task forces around the country. Those first-responders come from fire departments across the country and are trained to provide anything from drinking water to search crews to find people buried in collapsed buildings.
As for what bases to turn into emergency centers, Mamaux said that would have to be coordinated between the Department of Homeland Security, which FEMA is under, and the Department of Defense.
It is also unclear about how much it would cost to transform those military bases into emergency centers, but the infrastructure on bases with the housing quarters and other amenities is already there, said Mamaux. She added that she grew up on Air Force bases, so she does not believe it would be difficult to turn bases into emergency centers.
"There are so many components when responding to a natural disaster and to bring them all together is of significance and importance," Mamaux said.