Report Examines Definition of First Responder (12/31/13)
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 | Comments

The term “first responder” has no federal definition, although it is commonly used to refer to law enforcement, fire and emergency medical personnel, a report found after examining federal law, regulation and other federal executive branch documents. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Special Committee on Transportation Security & Emergency Management and the Special Committee on Wireless Communications Technology sponsored the report.

The research examined if there was a definition for the term “first responder” in federal law. It also asked, if there wasn’t a definition, was one needed for one for the distribution of federal funding.

While the term has been used in testimony by members of the federal government, as well as by the chief funding agencies for “disaster-related” grants, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and on the website of the FCC, it is only used in a non-legal sense, the report said.

The term used for federal grants law, including grants awarded and administered by DHS and FEMA is “emergency response provider,” the report said. The term is used consistently in the laws enacted by Congress from 2002 to today.

Although preliminary evidence suggested that grant funding to first responders might be affected by how the term was defined in grants law and in the state laws and regulations, that has not proved to be the case, the report said.

To receive federal funds, the states are independently responsible for applying for the grants. Under the programs, funding should be awarded if the state qualifies. Given the expressed guidance and intent of the grant programs, qualification for the funding would depend on the state’s definition of its agency or personnel and whether that definition satisfies the criteria articulated by the federal scheme.

As to grants administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, the term “first responder” is not defined in the act and is not an eligible applicant. Rather, with the State and Local Implementation Grant Program (SLIGP), the state is the applicant. And for the 9-1-1 grant programs, the “eligible entity” is a state or local government or a tribal organization, or a public authority created by one or more such governments or organization.

This means that a federal definition of the term “first responder” is not needed because the term is not used in relevant federal grants law. Given that eligibility for grant funds is not related to the definition of “first responder,” that term and its definition are irrelevant to the determination of funding awards.

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