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Source: United States House of Representatives – Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (1st District of Washington)

Today, Congress passed the National Landslide Preparedness Act (H.R. 8810), bipartisan legislation that will help save lives, protect communities and property, and improve natural disaster emergency preparedness by targeting key gaps in science and mapping critical to understanding landslide hazards. The bill was introduced by Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-01) in the House of Representatives and Washington Senator Maria Cantwell in the Senate.

This information will help communities plan for and respond to natural hazards, update the nation’s topographical maps, and inform public safety, national security, planning, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, and natural resource management. The 2014 landslide near Oso, Washington, which took the lives of 43 people and devastated a community in about two minutes, and the recent landslide in Haines, Alaska, both highlight the urgent need to better understand and prepare for landslide hazards.

“Washington state knows too well the devastating impact landslides and natural disasters can have in the blink of an eye. We must do all that we can to safeguard our communities and honor those that we lost. The National Landslide Preparedness Act will help us better prepare for and mitigate future events by collecting invaluable data that will protect lives and property,” said DelBene. “The next natural disaster should not become our next national tragedy.”

“Six years after the Oso landslide, everyone in the State of Washington remembers the devastating impacts landslides can have,” Senator Cantwell said. “This bill would dramatically increase our use of LIDAR data needed to map, identify, and track landslide risk areas. Employing our best science and mapping technologies will help communities across our state save lives, safeguard property, and improve our emergency planning and response.”

Landslides kill 25 to 50 people and cause between $1.6 billion and $3.2 billion in damage in the U.S. annually, according to the U.S. Geological Service and National Research Council. These statistics are expected to worsen because of climate change.

“I know first-hand the monumental impacts our community was challenged with during the 2014 Oso landslide,” said Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin. “In just over two minutes, we lost 43 of our family, friends, and neighbors. We lost our main highway for over six months. We lost the ability to communicate beyond the slide via phone or internet for more than 72 hours. Medical services were severely impacted, and prescription services and transactions were also not available. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the immediate impacts of this one event. The legislation that Representative DelBene has brought forward may not prevent another Oso slide but it gives communities like Darrington data that we can use to make important decisions about land use in hazard areas, training for our emergency services, and redundancy in infrastructure so precious time is not lost in a time of need.”

The National Landslide Preparedness Act:

  • Expands early warning systems. The bill expands existing early warning systems for post-wildfire landslides in recently burned areas across the United States. It also requires procedures to be developed for federal monitoring of stormwater drainage in areas with a high risk of landslides, in coordination with state, local, and tribal governments.
  • Creates a new federal program focused specifically on landslide hazards. The bill would establish a National Landslides Hazard Reduction program through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which would identify risks and hazards from landslides to protect at-risk communities and improve communication and emergency preparedness.
  • Develops new maps to help communities prepare for landslide risk. The bill would direct the USGS to implement a 3D Elevation Program to increase data collection and landslide threat identification across the country. Enhanced elevation data, such as LIDAR, is critical for numerous reasons—to help communities plan for and respond to natural hazards; to update the nation’s topographical maps; and to inform a myriad of uses including public safety, national security, planning, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, and natural resource management.
  • Authorizes new landslide-related grant programs. The bill authorizes new programs to provide funding to state, territorial, local, and tribal governments for landslide research, mapping, assessment, and data collection.
  • Establishes committees to better deal with landslide risks. The bill establishes an advisory committee on landslides and creates an interagency committee to coordinate better landslide responses from the multiple government agencies with jurisdiction.

The bill first passed the House of Representatives on June 3, 2019, and the Senate on July 30, 2020. Technical differences were worked out between the two chambers. It now goes to the president, who is expected to sign it.

The full text of H.R. 8810 can be found here.

MIL OSI USA News