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Government Affairs Program SPECIAL UPDATE

Natural Hazards Caucus Holds Event, Releases Discussion Paper


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

IN A NUTSHELL: On January 22nd, the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus kicked off its activities in the new 107th Congress with a roundtable event to consider the impacts of the recent earthquake in El Salvador and to discuss the broader natural hazards challenges facing the United States. In conjunction with the event, caucus co-chairs Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) released a discussion document prepared for the caucus, highlighting why the nation is becoming more vulnerable to natural disasters and what actions Congress can take to solve the problem.


Senators Edwards and Stevens formed the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus last year to provide a forum on Capitol Hill for natural hazard issues and to provide their colleagues with an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to reducing hazard losses. The caucus, which currently includes seventeen senators, is supported by the Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group -- outside organizations, including AGI and a number of its member societies, that share the senators' interest in raising the profile of natural hazards issues in Congress.

The caucus held its first forum last June, and at that event the senators called on the work group to develop a document that would identify key challenges for the caucus to address. The resulting discussion paper was released at Monday's roundtable event, held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

Over 100 people attended the event, which provided an opportunity for the senators to learn about the recent earthquake in El Salvador and its implications for the United States. The caucusheard from two speakers: Dr. P. Patrick Leahy, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Associate Director for Geology, and Dr. William Hooke, Senior Policy Fellow at the American Meteorological Society.

Leahy updated the senators on the January 13th earthquake and resulting landslides in El Salvador, which killed over 600 people and destroyed more than 21,000 houses.  He also spoke about areas in the U.S., such as the Pacific Northwest, that also are vulnerable to earthquake-triggered landslides. Leahy told the senators that programs such as the Advanced National Seismic System and the USGS stream gaging network help provide Americans with the data needed to understand the potential for natural disasters in vulnerable areas throughout the country.

Hooke summarized the key points from the work group's discussion paper, concluding: "Natural hazards are no respecters of political party, or societyís schedule, or national agenda. They are not constrained by state or regional or national boundaries. They cannot be contained physically. We canít 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 Americaís vulnerability to natural hazards."

The discussion paper is available for download at It identifies a number of challenges for Congress to address both in the near future and long term:

During the question-and-answer period, Senator Edwards picked up on the first theme of the discussion paper, asking how much disasters cost the taxpayers. Stevens, who chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriations, expressed similar concerns about the trend of increasing costs to the U.S. Treasury. He emphasized the need to focus more on prevention and preparation before these events take place.

In his remarks, Dr. Hooke also discussed a separate document prepared by work group organizations for the incoming Bush-Cheney Administration's transition team. The preparation of that document was spearheaded by the American Meteorological Society. Signatories include AGI and several of its member societies: the American Geophysical Union, the Association of American State Geologists, and the Seismological Society of America. Entitled "A National Priority: Building Resilience to Natural Hazards," its themes correspond closely to those in the caucus discussion paper with the bottom line being: the time has come for a new national approach to natural hazards. The transition document can be viewed at

For more information about this event and other caucus documents, please visit

Special update prepared by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program, adapted from American Geophysical Union ASLA 01-03.

Additional sources: American Meteorological Society, Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group.

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

Posted January 26, 2001

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