A temporarily wheelchair-bound lawmaker is calling on Governor Vilsack to appoint a special task force to review the state capitol’s evacuation plans. Representative Mark Kuhn’s request came this morning during his testimony before a House committee — and after three false fire alarms at the capitol in the past 10 days. Kuhn says there are evacuation plans for the capitol, but few have read them and many components of the plans — like posting signs pointing out the evacuation route — haven’t been carried out. “This has led to a dangerous situation which exists today where many state employees, including lawmakers, ignore the basic principle of emergency response…regard every warning as an actual emergency,” Kuhn says. “We’re sending a terrible message to the people of Iowa, the visitors to this capitol and the school children of Iowa who visit here and look up to us role models when we don’t obey the rules that ensure our safety.”
He says the state capitol’s emergency response plan is “an embarrassment.” Kuhn says the state of Iowa will never convince the federal government it is worthy of receiving federal homeland security funds if lawmakers themselves don’t obey the rules. Kuhn says the Capitol Complex Emergency Response Plan — which includes directions for evacuating the capitol — should be reviewed by a panel, appointed by the governor. “The plan was developed in December of 2003 and in large part ignored ever since,” Kuhn says.
But House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, is uncomfortable with giving Vilsack authority over evacuation plans for the House. Rants says one thing the governor’s office is supposed to do for the House now isn’t going that well. “Aside from the day the governor’s appearing to do his State of the State speech, they can’t seem to manage to run the air conditioning or heating of the House chambers, nor do they seem to have any desire to do that,” Rants says.
House Democrat Leader Pat Murphy of Dubuque agrees that the House should come up with its own evacuation plans. “We don’t have control over the Senate. We don’t have control over the executive branch,” Murphy says. “We can only be responsible for the House and what the House is supposed to do.”
Murphy says a plan is only paper, though, and it doesn’t do a lot of good if people don’t figure out how to execute the plans. Kuhn was carried in his wheelchair down 75 stairs by six fellow legislators to get him out of the capitol during yesterday’s fire alarm, which turned out to be false. Murphy gets choked up by that visual image. “When you think back to September 11th of 2001, the overwhelming majority of the (disabled) people who survived September 11th that were in the Twin Towers didn’t get assistance from the police. They didn’t get assistance from the fire (fighters). It was from the people that they worked with,” Murphy says. “That’s what happened yesterday and so I’m very proud of what we did.” Today’s discussion happened in the House Administration and Rules Committee which is made up of House leaders.