From the San Angelo Standard-Times (January 21, 2011), written by Matthew Waller:
The state’s budget emergencies may affect its ability to handle other emergencies. Texas has opted to discontinue contract funding for an emergency management division’s services, and San Angelo may be feeling its effects, the city’s emergency management coordinator has said.
The National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center got rid of 42 employees after its contract with the state ended, the Texas Engineering Extension Service announced. “It has been a great asset to the first responders in Texas,” Tom Green County and city of San Angelo, Emergency Management Coordinator Ron Perry said.
TEEX spokesman Brian Blake said that the NERRTC division isn’t closing but that training would become less frequent and limited to bodies with their own funding. He said groups from New York, New Jersey and California would be seeking training, for example. “A lot of it was exercise training where they do simulations of disaster scenarios for officials,” Blake said. “None of those programs are ending. They’re just being scaled back.”
Blake said he did not know why the state decided not to renew its contract or what state entity was in charge of the decision, but state lawmakers in the 82nd Legislature have been finding ways to reduce their budget by billions of dollars. Perry said he had no opinion on the budgeting decision. “We’ll have to pick up that training on our own,” Perry said.
Perry said he remembered taking a group of Concho Valley Council of Government judges and volunteer fire department workers to a training session. After the session they learned that near College Station, where they had the training, a plant suffered an explosion, and harmful chemicals were released into the air in Bryan. “Everybody said, ‘This was a good, useful training,'” Perry said.
Perry said people from the emergency training division came to Tom Green County and gave lessons. He said their assistance, free of charge, would be missed. “They are the expert experts in their fields,” Perry said.
“They came several times a year.”
Blake said the group included everyone from business managers to former military personnel. He said the division still has 25 people. Blake said the division began in 2003, not to be confused with a federally funded center with the identically titled National Emergency Response and Rescue Training Center, which gives out training with grants through the Department of Homeland Security for different programs.
Police spokesman Lt. David Howard said he was unaware of the police receiving any training through NERRTC, and Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Lassiter said the San Angelo Fire Department may be affected indirectly. “Since 9/11 there are so many different programs we have trouble arranging travel to take advantage of all the trainings,” Lassiter said.
Blake said the cut in the NERRTC division affected salary and hourly employees. He said the division budgeted about $13 million, and half of that came from the state. He said 10,069 people received training through the division.
He said TEEX has known about the discontinued contract since Dec. 31. Tom Green County Judge Mike Brown said he has gone through NERRTC training multiple times. “They come here more than we go there,” Brown said. “We train continuously. It’s an ongoing process through our appointed emergency management coordinator with the assistance of the Council of Governments.”
Brown said that the last time he went, he and others were reviewing a training process that was in development for other elected officials. He said that in the past the county has gone to multiple trainings each year, although now they may have fewer training sessions as the budget falls. “We’re going to do the best we can with what we have,” Brown said.