18 Lawmakers Join Gabbard’s Bill to Strengthen Civil Defense Preparedness and Accountability

March 9, 2018
Press Release

Washington, DC—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (HI-02) Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 (H.R. 4949) continues to gain national momentum, adding 18 Congressional cosponsors since introduction. Following the false ballistic missile alert sent out across Hawai‘i on January 13, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard introduced legislation to require the responsible federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Defense (DoD), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to investigate the failures of the January 13 false alarm. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through FEMA, to review the current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats and study the best practices regarding civil defense emergencies to prevent a similar catastrophic mistake anywhere in the country. In addition, the bill would instruct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to publicly detail the ability of HHS and health care providers to respond to a biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons attack.

A section-by-section summary of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s bill is available here

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard said, “Nearly two months since a false missile alert went out to more than a million people across Hawaiʻi, many questions still remain unanswered. This event corroded public trust and revealed deep gaps in preparedness measures at every level of government, both in Hawaiʻi and nationwide. Congress must pass the Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 to rebuild trust in our civil defense agencies, provide Hawaii’s people with answers, and ensure this kind of colossal failure never happens again.”

“Earlier this year, Hawaiians were subjected to a frightening false ballistic missile alert which prompted a state of chaos and uncertainty,” said Congressman Young. “I’m proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation and I’m particularly pleased to see that this bill is gaining support. By addressing the conditions that caused this false alarm to happen in the first place, we can establish and improve best practices for our civil defense operations. This bill will improve public outreach when real emergencies take place which is crucial for restoring people’s trust in their government’s readiness and commitment to public safety.”

“This is a critical time for our nation and countries around the world,” said Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “We must work effectively and efficiently to ensure our missile alert system works properly and without technical or personnel glitches. I am proud to cosponsor the Civil Defense Accountability Act to safeguard against potential future false alarms and ensure our nation’s accurate response and preparedness.”

Congressman Tom MacArthur said, “The accidental missile threat alert in Hawaiʻi was a terrifying event that could have been prevented.  This bipartisan legislation would instruct relevant government agencies to investigate this false alert and create best practices to prevent an error like this from happening again.  At a time when our country faces evolving threats from adversaries, like North Korea, we must ensure our country’s civil defense readiness.”    

Congressman Scott Taylor said, “As Representative for Virginia’s Second Congressional District, home to the world’s largest naval base, I am keenly aware of the potential threat ballistic missiles pose to our coastal and island communities. Now more than ever, it is imperative that Congress establishes a uniform practice for assessing, reporting, and responding to these threats to ensure the safety of the American people.”

“In January, we became alarmingly aware that our ballistic missile alert system needs some serious review after the widespread panic in Hawaiʻi – and we must do everything in our power to ensure this never happens again,” said Congressman Donald Norcross. “No American should ever be faced with a terrifying, but untrue warning. We need our alert system to work properly, so we don’t create a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation when real emergencies strike, and this bill moves us in the right direction. The Civil Defense Accountability Act is a common-sense solution that makes sure our agencies are taking the false threat as seriously as we are.”

“Nobody should be told they’re about to be nuked when it just isn’t remotely true,” Rep. Mast said. “That’s why I’m glad to join this bipartisan effort to improve transparency, accountability and national security.  This can never be allowed to happen again—anywhere.”

Background: H.R. 4949, the Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 would:

  • Assess Current Reporting Procedures: Within 90 days, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of Federal Communications Commission, is required to submit a report to Congress regarding the current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats. This report will assess the notification protocols required under Federal Law or regulations of federal and state entities and the communications between these entities, after a ballistic missile threat is identified, during a ballistic missile threat, and regarding ballistic missile impact warnings.
  • Establish Best Practices: Within 180 days of enactment, the Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through FEMA, is required to conduct a study to identify the best practices regarding civil defense emergencies. This study will identify plans for local, state, and federal communications before, during, and after a civil defense emergency. In addition, the study will include plans for State communication with residents and local and State security and contingency plans. The initial study shall include no fewer than 13 states, including Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington, and five states bordering an ocean including the Gulf of Mexico. Within 180 days of enactment, the Secretary of State will also submit a report to Congress regarding the 13 state study including deficiency trends, best practices, and plans to improve public outreach regarding civil defense emergencies. The unclassified portions of this report will be disseminated to states within 270 days.
  • Evaluate Federal Response: Within 60 days of enactment, the Secretary of Defense, the Administrator of FEMA, and the Director of the FCC will provide to Congress and publish an online report detailing their agencies’ actions during the January 13 ballistic missile false alarm in Hawaii. The report will also detail corrective actions and recommendations to prevent future false alarms.
  • Strengthen Public Health Preparedness: Within 180 days, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of for Preparedness and Response, will submit a report to Congress and publish an online report regarding the ability of HHS and health care providers to respond to biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons attacks on the U.S. The Secretary is also required to submit recommendations to Congress and develop a public outreach program in coordination with local and State entities using these recommendations. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will also take into consideration the recommendations in the report when issuing grants under the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement and the Hospital Preparedness program.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also introduced the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act (H.R. 4965) that would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.

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