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Summary of Emergency Response Bills in Congress

posted on Wed, Dec 7 2011 4:09 pm by Daniel Orenstein

Emergency Response Bill

Congress enacted the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA) in 2006 in response to lessons learned from past major emergencies, notably Hurricane Katrina. The bipartisan legislation made significant improvements in emergency response through federal re-organization and interjurisdictional preparedness efforts, such as coordinating emergency volunteer health professionals on a national basis under DHHS oversight (for more information on the scope of PAHPA, please see this commentary). Five years later, additional knowledge has emerged from the H1N1 pandemic and other intervening emergencies. Now, with some provisions set to expire in 2012, the House of Representatives (H.R. 2405) and Senate (S.1855) have introduced bills to reauthorize and extend PAHPA to further improve and refine national emergency preparedness and response.

Changes and extensions proposed in both versions of the bill include:

  • Expanding the authority and responsibilities of DHHS’ Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
  • Increasing FDA interaction with medical countermeasure sponsors (e.g., drug manufacturers) and requiring more detailed developmental and investigatory plans as part of approval
  • Renewing funding for the BioShield Special Reserve Fund and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)
  • Reauthorizing projects that facilitate state and local preparedness, including the Emergency System for Advance Registration of Volunteer Health Professionals (ESAR-VHP), the Medical Reserve Corps, and flu vaccine tracking programs.


Although similar in most respects, there are key differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill that will need to be resolved as part of the legislative process. For example, the Senate bill includes some additional provisions that the House bill does not, such as additional explicit protections for at-risk populations, particularly individuals with disabilities. The Senate bill would also authorize DHHS’ Secretary to permit limited use of medical countermeasures still under review by the FDA, and to extend expiration dates of approved products in CDC’s Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in response to a declared emergency or material threat. Currently, this can only be accomplished under an FDA-issued  Emergency Use Authorization or through the joint FDA/Department of Defense Shelf-Life Extension Program).

Find more information on emergency legal preparedness and response here.

This information was prepared by Daniel G. Orenstein, J.D., deputy director for the Network for Public Health Law – Western Region at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer.

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