What planned Trump budget cuts could do to urban search and rescue

By Michael Hill

When a NJ Transit train derailed and killed a commuter last fall in Hoboken, Hackensack firefighters say they were the first on the scene to do urban search and rescue. They did the same when a parking garage collapsed in town in 2010. Now, they say the program could need a rescue itself — the Trump administration plans to cut funding for search and rescue under FEMA’s Urban Area Security Initiative allocations program.

“Funding has been decreasing slightly over the years and that big pie that we were getting a piece out of is now a smaller pie that we’re not really getting a whole lot out of — we’re getting a sliver. We’re appreciative of that, but I’m here to tell you that the programs and the training and the equipment that comes down to the local area departments, through the UASIA program, it cannot take a hit. There’s so much money invested in this program that to decrease the funding would be catastrophic,” said Chief Thomas Freeman of the Hackensack Fire Department.

The catastrophe of 9/11 led to the creation of the program in 2004 and training for half of Hackensack’s 100 firefighters. Some took part in Operation Fallout in April where first responders from three states trained at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

Congressman Josh Gottheimer says the administration wants to cut the program’s budget by 26 percent.

“Here we are in the shadow of ground zero, in an area that lost scores of men and women to the hands of terrorists facing a budget that would gut a key weapon against terror. Here we are in 2017, with Isis-inspired homegrown and lone-wolf terrorists lurking in our communities and New Jersey is facing a $5 million slash to this counterterrorism program,” Gottheimer said.

The administration proposes to increase spending for the Department of Homeland Security, but slash spending for airport security while raising spending for immigration enforcement and deportation. Former Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff wrote that’s “akin to double-locking your front door, but leaving your side door open — and your windows, and your garage door, and turning off your alarm.”

First responders say cutting anti-terror funding is delusional.

“The frequency of terrorist incidents is not declining as far as I can see and so I really can’t see that it would be very prudent to have the funding decline,” said Freeman.

“Here’s the bottom line: we don’t know when the next emergency or terrorist attack will be. We can’t know the future and we do hope for the best, but we have to be prepared for the worst,” Gottheimer said.

Hackensack Fire officials and Congressman Gottheimer say the money for this program is not a luxury and they’re hoping the administration will do a reversal and fund the program.