Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus
Roundtable Event
January 22, 2001

Remarks by
Dr. William Hooke
Senior Policy Fellow
American Meteorological Society

Senator Edwards, Senator Stevens, Senators, ladies and gentlemen:

On behalf of the working group for this Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus, thank you for the opportunity to make a few remarks as part of this roundtable event. In beginning, all of us would join in seconding two important themes developed by the previous speaker. First, we do indeed have much to learn from the experience of other nations with respect to natural hazards – in this case the recent earthquake in El Salvador and its tragic consequences. We also bear responsibility to be a good neighbor with respect to common natural threats. We would be wise to go beyond emergency relief alone. We can best cooperate with other nations by taking steps to prevent and reduce the calamities resulting from natural extremes before they occur. Second, we would all benefit from actions that the U.S. Geological Survey proposes with respect to modernizing its observing system – both the Advanced National Seismic System and maintenance and augmentation of its stream gauge network. In the same spirit, we support similar efforts by other agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve hazard monitoring, forecasts, and warnings.

As you know, the caucus working group represents a diverse community: scientific and professional societies, emergency managers, insurers, media, NGO’s, and  universities, to name a few. Though diverse, we are like-minded:

At your initial forum last June, our working group promised to answer your question, “How can Congress help?” Since that time, we have been active. The result is the discussion paper before you – an outgrowth of our June statement.

The discussion paper highlights the following areas for attention:

Congressional action in these areas will go a long way toward making America safer, more prosperous, and more secure.

Congress, through this caucus, already recognizes the importance of policies and actions to deal with natural hazards. To cope will require effective action from the executive branch as well. In that spirit, the working group has also prepared a second document – A National Priority: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards – which urges the incoming administration to follow your lead and make reducing natural disasters a priority.

Natural hazards are no respecters of political party, or society’s schedule, or national agenda. They are not constrained by state or regional or national boundaries. They cannot be contained physically. We can’t cap the volcano, or forestall the earthquake, or halt the winter storm. However, we can limit the damaging impacts of these extremes – by appropriate policy, by cautious land use, proper engineering, and other steps, including public education and awareness well in advance of the hazardous event. We can provide more timely warnings, and thus improve emergency response. We can do more to promote long-term recovery. We can keep score, and learn from mistakes. In that spirit, the members of the work group look forward to working with the Congress as you work to reduce America’s vulnerability to natural hazards.

Again, thank you.

Posted January 26, 2001