Ahead of Oso Landslide 10-Year Anniversary, Cantwell Introduces Bill to Improve Emergency Response and Help Save Lives

Climate change and more frequent weather events to increase landslide risk nationwide

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a bill to reauthorize the National Landslide Preparedness Act for 10 years, through Fiscal Year 2034. This bipartisan legislation aims to help save lives and improve natural disaster emergency preparedness by targeting key gaps in science and mapping critical to understanding landslide hazards.

“Since we passed this bill, federal agencies have improved mapping technologies and gained a better understanding of the landslide risks facing our communities,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Now, nearly a decade since the devastating Oso landslide, and as more wildfires and atmospheric river events make landslides more likely, we must reauthorize and update these federal programs to help keep communities safe.”

March 2024 will mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2014 Oso landslide, which took the lives of 43 people and within minutes devastated a community. This legislation highlights the urgent need to better understand and prepare for landslide hazards so communities stay informed and threatened areas are identified.

Sen. Cantwell and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D, WA-01) first introduced the National Landslide Preparedness Act in November 2020, and it was signed into law in January 2021.

This legislation would reauthorize their legislation, the National Landslide Preparedness Act of 2021, which:

  • Expanded existing early warning systems for post-wildfire landslides in recently burned areas across the United States. It also required 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.
  • Created a new federal program focused specifically on landslide hazards through the United States Geological Survey (USGS), to identify risks and hazards from landslides to protect at-risk communities and improve communication and emergency preparedness.
  • Directed USGS, through its 3D Elevation Program, to develop new maps to help communities prepare for landslide risk, to increase data collection and landslide threat identification across the country.
  • Authorized new landslide-related grant programs to provide funding to state, territorial, local, and tribal governments for landslide research, mapping, assessment, and data collection.

Landslides kill 25 to 50 people and cause billions of dollars in damages in the U.S. annually, according to USGS. The National Research Council previously estimated that landslides cause between $1.6 billion and $3.2 billion in damage per year. The national strategy prepared by USGS as directed by the National Landslide Preparedness Act of 2021 identified the need to develop better economic loss estimates for landslide damage.

In addition, these statistics are expected to worsen because of climate change. Moreover, according to USGS, the largest landslide in Earth’s recorded history took place in Washington state, when Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. 

Sen. Cantwell authored $3.3 billion in NOAA investments in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to help communities prepare for and adapt to climate change, boost science needed to understand changing weather and climate patterns, and invest in advanced computer technologies that are critical for extreme weather prediction and emergency response. In May 2022, Sen. Cantwell introduced the Fire Ready Nation Act to establish a fire weather services program within NOAA. In December 2023, Sen. Cantwell passed two bipartisan bills out of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to modernize the nation’s weather communication and radio service to keep communities better informed during intense weather events.