Little-Known Compact Aids U.S. Defense, Officials Say

 
More states are expected to sign onto an interstate agreement that gets rid of bureaucratic wrangling when helicopters, firefighters or trucks are needed in emergencies.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact , (EMAC), already endorsed by 41 states, enables mutual aid during times of emergency. New York formally adopted the agreement six days after the terrorists' attacks.

The compact replaces verbal agreements used in the past for emergencies ranging from floods to fires, and it exists because all states face a common enemythe threat of disaster.

Emergency managers from at least 13 states are providing recovery help to New York through the compact, according to the National Emergency Management Association, an affiliate of the Council of State Governments that provides administrative support for the compact.

Florida, for example, loaned New York a state worker with expertise in donations management.

Besides personnel, the compact provides training and equipment across state lines to help with fire suppression, law enforcement and transportation. States that ask for help are responsible for reimbursing all out-of-state costs and liable for out-of-state personnel.

Although New Jersey is the only eastern state that hasn't adopted the compact, firefighters from northern New Jersey have assisted New York recovery efforts. Other states that haven't signed onto the compact are Alaska, Alabama, California, Hawaii, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Washington and Illinois adopted the agreement earlier this year.

The only requirement for joining is for a state legislature to ratify the language of the compact. States are not required to assist other states unless they are able.

Ohio State Rep. Shawn Webster, R-Millville, introduced the compact in the legislature with 15 co-sponsors in June. In Wyoming, the compact failed to pass the legislature last year because of concerns about liability language, but it is likely to surface again this year, said Kelly Ruiz, a spokeswoman for the state's emergency management agency.

Michigan Gov. John Engler has agreed to a request from the state police to place the compact on this fall's legislative agenda. Mark Wesley, spokesman for the State Police emergency management division, said even before terrorists rammed planes into the World Trade Center, Michigan emergency managers were working on the mutual aid agreement as part of a domestic preparedness strategy for terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

"Looking at the magnitude of the events in New York, if we had an event, we would probably have to rely on assistance from outside the state," Wesley said. "EMAC would make it easier, and it defines the liability issues associated with sending responders to another state."

Broadcast messages are sent over EMAC's password-protected Web site saying what equipment or personnel is needed. State emergency managers able to help then fax a one-page form saying how much the operation will cost. The state confronting the disaster faxes back another form constituting a contractual agreement.

"Procedures are in place. We're not guessing how we're going to do it, and it works," said Richard Cheek, deputy logistics section chief for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "When a state needs assistance, all they need to do is tell the emergency management agency what they need. Somebody's going to answer the call."

Faxes are used now, but electronic signatures could be used in the future to firm up contracts.

North Carolina relied on the compact after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, and the agreement allowed national guardsmen from four different states to help feed and transport people. The compact also facilitated the use of helicopters from neighboring states to lift 1,400 people off rooftops, said Renee Hoffman, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley said in a statement after the terrorist attacks, "We are ready to assist other states in any way that we can through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact. North Carolina is activated to assume our responsibility in this regard."

 
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