Natural Hazards Caucus Holds First Event, More Senators Needed

Posted: June 23, 2000

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies.

IN A NUTSHELL: On June 21st, the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus held its first event, a forum on reducing America's vulnerability to disasters. A reception that evening honoring the caucus featured displays by federal agencies and other hazard-related organizations. The forum drew more than 180 people to hear testimony from leaders in the federal, state, disaster relief, insurance, and scientific sectors. The goal of the caucus, co-chaired by Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Senator John Edwards (D-NC), is to improve the ways in which local, state and federal government prepare for and help mitigate the costs of natural disasters.

Eighteen senators have joined the caucus (see list below), but many more are needed if it is to achieve its goal. In particular, we need more Republican senators to join the caucus. To help build on the momentum of the initial forum, please contact your senators and encourage them to join. Attached below is a "Dear Colleague" letter circulated by Edwards and Stevens to encourage other senators to join the caucus. Although the caucus has begun in the Senate, discussions are underway to expand the caucus to the House. Stay tuned for a future alert to contact your congressional representative when the caucus expands to the other side of the Capitol.


Senator Edwards began the forum by describing the litany of natural disasters that took place in 1999, particularly noting the impacts of Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd on his home state of North Carolina. He argued that a more comprehensive approach is needed: "For far too long, federal, state and local officials and private agencies have survived with a piecemeal approach to disasters. We can do a better job preparing for natural disasters and we can do a better job helping innocent victims of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other calamities."

In his opening remarks, Senator Stevens noted: "Experts say there is a 67-percent chance that a disastrous earthquake will occur in the California area before the year 2020. In Alaska, we have the ‘honor' of having had the largest (ever) recorded earthquake in 1964. Sixty percent of our nation's population now lives along our coastal areas. Those areas not only face the dangers of earthquakes. Many of them also face the prospect of hurricanes." Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) added that the island "paradise" of Hawaii was beset with a wide range of hazards from volcanic eruptions to tropical storms.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director James Lee Witt, a member of the President's cabinet for the past eight years, testified: "I appreciate that you all have found a way to establish a permanent forum for thoughtful discussion about the natural hazards that our communities face. We make a lot of important investments in our country in education and in our environment. Now we need to make some investments to lessen the impact of disasters on the lives of communities."

In addition to Witt, witnesses included American Red Cross Senior Vice President Sue Richter, North Carolina Director of Emergency Management Eric Tolbert, National Weather Service Deputy Director John Jones, Institute for Business and Home Safety President Harvey Ryland, and American Meteorological Society Senior Policy Fellow William Hooke. Testimony for several of the witnesses is available at

Until recently chair of the Interagency Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction, Hooke emphasized the need for a national assessment of risks and of investments in natural disaster reduction. He also urged the senators to help foster a greater emphasis on learning from disaster experiences. He contrasted the current "rebuild just as before" approach to natural disasters with the "we don't want this to ever happen again" approach to airplane crashes, and the meticulous investigations that take place in their aftermath.

For over a year, the American Geological Institute, the American Geophysical Union, and a working group of organizations concerned about natural hazards issues have worked to establish this caucus in order to raise the profile of hazard issues in Congress. Caucuses are informal organizations of like-minded members of Congress who seek to increase awareness of a particular issue among their colleagues. The Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group includes several AGI member societies as well as other scientific and engineering societies, university consortia, relief organizations, emergency management groups, insurance companies, and trade associations (see list at end of message). For more information on the caucus or the work group, visit

The work group sponsored a Senate reception in the evening after the forum to honor the caucus. More than 120 people, including senior congressional staff, came to see hazard-related displays by the U.S. Geological Survey, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, University Center for Atmospheric Research, National Weather Service, American Red Cross, FEMA, and others. Support for the event was provided by a number of work group organizations, including AGI member societies AGU, the Association of American State Geologists, the Geo-Institute, and the Seismological Society of America.

Write Your Senators

Wednesday's events raised the profile of the caucus in Congress, and sometimes that higher visibility is all it takes to convince a senator to join. If your senators are not on the caucus roster below, please contact them and reference the "Dear Colleague" letter (also below), which includes contacts in Stevens' and Edwards' offices whom staffers can reach for further details. If your senator is already a caucus member, please thank them for their leadership. Telephone numbers and addresses for your senators can be found on the Web at Letters should be brief and use the format:

The Honorable __________
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

Please let us know of any contacts you make --, fax 703-379-7563, voice 703-379-2480 ext. 212, or AGI Govt Affairs Program, 4220 King Street, Alexandria VA 22302.

Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus Roster

Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), Co-Chair
Senator John Edwards (D-NC), Co-Chair
Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Senator John Breaux (D-LA)
Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)
Senator Max Cleland (D-GA)
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND)
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND)
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL)
Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK)
Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA)
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY)
Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Dear Colleague Letter Encouraging Senators to Join Caucus

February 15, 2000

Dear Colleague:

We write to ask you to join with us in forming the Natural Hazards Caucus.

We have been working with a variety of groups including the American Red Cross, the Institute for Business and Home Safety, the American Geological Institute, and the American Geophysical Union to examine what concrete steps should be taken to improve our disaster preparedness and responses.  Our goal is to provide ways the local, state and federal government can better prepare for and help mitigate the costs of natural disasters.

Each year, Congress appropriates billions of dollars in emergency assistance to states hit hard by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters.  We invite you to join us as we begin this important dialogue on steps the federal, state and local governments can take to lessen the severity of these disasters.

Over the course of the next few months our goal is to hold several fora on the issues of disaster preparedness, mitigation and response.  Through meetings and consultation with outside groups we hope to develop some constructive proposals that we can all support. Please join us. For more information, please contact Butch Burke of Senator Stevens' staff at 224-3004 or Laura Godwin of Senator Edwards' staff at 224-3154.


Ted Stevens             John Edwards

Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group

American Geological Institute
American Geophysical Union
American Iron and Steel Institute
American Meteorological Society
American Red Cross
American Society of Civil Engineers
Applied Technology Council
Association of American State Geologists
Association of State Flood Plain Managers
Disaster Recovery Business Alliance
Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
Emergency Information Infrastructure Project
Geo-Institute of ASCE
Geological Society of America
Institute for Business & Home Safety
International Assn. of Emergency Managers International Code Council
IRIS Consortium
Manufactured Housing Institute
National Emergency Management Association
Multihazard Mitigation Council of the National Institute of Building Sciences
National Association of Contingency Planners
Reinsurance Association of America
Seismological Society of America
State Farm
Structural Engineering Institute of ASCE
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Western Disaster Center

Alert prepared by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Uploaded June 23, 2000

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