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Rep. Higgins Forms House Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Caucus

Congressmember Introduces Legislation to Protect Past Federal Homeland Security Investment
December 14, 2011

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) announced the formation of a House of Representatives Preserving Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Capability Gains Caucus and related legislation to protect the federal investments made to UASI communities.  

The UASI program, administered by the Department of Homeland Security, focuses on enhancing regional preparedness in identified high-risk areas through collaboration that fosters integrated emergency prevention, protection, response and recovery.  Buffalo-Niagara is among regions nationwide that will no longer qualify to apply for these funds after eligible communities were reduced from 64 to 31, threatening the preparedness and security in these regions. 

“Recent drastic changes in the UASI program have the potential of creating gaping holes in regions making significant contributions to our national security,” said Congressman Higgins, a member of the House Committees on Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs.   “The Caucus will give us the opportunity to highlight the benefits and contributions of UASI and work with similarly situated communities across the Country.  In addition our legislation builds in protections for past and future UASI investments.”  

Congressman Higgins’s district includes the Buffalo Urban Area, often referred to as BEN since it encompasses the city of Buffalo and Counties of Erie and Niagara; it has received $53 million since 2003, ranging from $5.5 million last year to $10.3 million in 2003.  The Buffalo Niagara region, an international border community, is home to four international bridge crossings; the Niagara Power Project which serves as the largest electricity producer in New York State; and the homegrown al-Qaeda terrorist cell, the Lackawanna Six.  It also sits along two Great Lakes which represent the largest fresh water supply in the world and serves as the center point of a 500 mile radius that includes approximately 55% of the US population and 62% of the Canadian population.  

Preserving Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Capability Gains Caucus

The purpose of the UASI Caucus is to raise awareness about the preparedness and response capability gains achieved by first responders that have received UASI homeland security funding, identify and address critical capability gaps in at-risk urban areas that could be addressed through UASI funding, bring to light the harmful effect on capability gains at the local, State, and National levels of removing at-risk urban areas from the UASI program, and advance legislation and policies to preserve first responder capability gains achieved through UASI funding.  Congressman Stivers (OH-15), whose district includes Columbus, will serve as co-chair of the caucus. 

Preserving Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Capability Gains Act  (HR 3631)
(Introduced by Rep. Higgins and cosponsored by Rep. Stivers) 

The UASI program emphasizes multi-jurisdictional, regional readiness and supports unique planning, organization, equipment, training and exercise needs.   Many of the urban areas cut from the program will not be able to sustain the advancements made under UASI.  Nationally, this capabilities erosion has significant homeland security and national preparedness implications.  

In order to sustain the capabilities, investments in equipment, technology and regional collaboration gains that were made, the Preserving Urban Area Security Initiative Capability Gains Act would authorize a limited, 3 year (FY12-FY14) $58 million/year competitive grant program where high-risk jurisdictions that were previously eligible for the UASI program (in FY09 and FY10) but were cut could compete for funding to preserve their homeland security capabilities.  Applications would be judged on strict criteria and only the ones that best aligned with that criteria- including the enhancement of regional catastrophic planning- would receive funds.  

The $58 million is roughly half the amount that the 32 UASIs received in FY10.  No applicant could be awarded more than 7%, or $4.06 million.  The 32 UASIs that were cut last received in FY10 between $1.010 million to $7.7 million.  

Congressman Higgins is also co-sponsoring the Urban Area Security Initiative Modernization and Accountability Act of 2011, introduced by Rep. Stivers, which would help modernize the program’s efficiency moving forward.  

Congressman Higgins spoke about the caucus and legislation from the House Floor.  His remarks are below: 

“As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I rise to express my concern about the direction of the Urban Area Security Initiative program.

“UASI was created to develop capabilities to prevent and respond to attacks and catastrophes in our most vulnerable cities. 

“The Program has helped develop joint initiatives among local governments in my community of Buffalo-Niagara.  We have an obligation to protect this investment and the capability gains developed across the country.

“Yet recent drastic cuts in UASI funding have resulted in the elimination of 32 of the 64 urban areas from the program.

“That puts the preparedness and security capability gains we’ve achieved at risk.

“In order to raise awareness of this problem, this week I formed the Preserving UASI Capability Gains Caucus with Congressman Steve Stivers of Columbus, Ohio.  

“I also introduced legislation to preserve the capability gains achieved by communities like Buffalo that were dropped from the UASI program. 

“I urge my colleagues who represent UASI communities to join our caucus so that we can protect our capability gains and ensure our communities are properly secured.”