Cantwell, DelBene Introduce Legislation to Protect Communities from Landslides

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced legislation in the Senate and House to help local communities prepare for and respond to landslides and other natural hazards. The National Landslide Preparedness Act would help protect communities and property, save lives and improve emergency preparedness and planning by targeting key gaps in current science and mapping critical to understanding landslide hazards and risks.

Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) are original co-sponsors of the legislation in the Senate and Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Denny Heck (D-WA), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) are all original cosponsors in the House.

On March 22, 2014, a massive landslide near Oso, Washington, killed 43 people, engulfed 42 homes, and severely damaged public infrastructure and private property. This tragedy highlighted the need to close the gaps in science and mapping needed to better understand and prepare for landslide hazards. The DelBene-Cantwell landslide bill establishes a program to address these needs and help keep communities safe.

In addition, the DelBene-Cantwell legislation would establish a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to better identify and understand landslide risks, protect communities, save lives and property, and help improve emergency preparedness.

 “Five years ago, we saw how devastating landslides can be, when the Oso landslide tragically killed 43 people and caused millions of dollars in damage,” said Senator Cantwell. “This bill will help keep communities and infrastructure safe by improving preparedness for landslides and other natural hazards.”

“I remember vividly the horrors of that tragic scene near Oso which took 43 precious lives and left countless families and a community shattered,” said Congresswoman DelBene. “This legislation is born out of that experience and would help our region and others around the country be better prepared for the possibility of a landslide. With a commitment to using state-of-the-art technology to target vulnerable terrain, we can take important steps toward saving lives all across the country.”

“What happened in Oso was a tragedy that no community should have to experience,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer. “I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation to ensure communities in our region -- and around the nation -- are better prepared to mitigate the risks of hazardous landslides. These investments will support efforts to identify risks, protect key infrastructure, and give our communities the critical time and resources they need to save lives and prevent future tragedy.”

“The Oso landslide was a stark reminder of the need to better prepare for and respond to natural disasters,” said Rep. Adam Smith. “I applaud Congresswoman DelBene for leading this legislation to harness our resources and scientific understanding to protect communities and critical infrastructure.” 

“In the Pacific Northwest, we are acutely aware of the dangers posed by landslides, but our disaster preparedness efforts are only as good as the science and mapping that informs them,” said Congressman Denny Heck. “I am proud to support this bill, championed by my fellow Washingtonians, to improve our understanding of landslide science so that our communities can make smart investments that protect property and save lives.”

“We must do more to help vulnerable communities prepare and respond to landslides,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “I’m proud to support this legislation to strengthen investments in science and mapping to better identify landslide hazards and risks. This additional information will provide our communities with the tools they need to protect lives and infrastructure in the event of a natural disaster.”

“Protecting the safety of Americans is one of the key roles of government,” said Congressman Cartwright. “This legislation will help save lives by making sure we’re prepared for landslides, which are often unpredictable and deadly. We must do all we can to keep our communities out of harm’s way.”

In addition, the bill would also direct the USGS to implement a 3D Elevation Program to update and coordinate the collection of elevation data across the country, using enhanced, high-resolution data. Enhanced elevation data are 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.

High-resolution elevation data has been collected for only about a quarter of the United States. Much of the country relies on data collected more than 30 years ago using older techniques that do not provide the same resolution and benefits. An ongoing federal-state partnership has collected such data for about three-quarters of Alaska—an accomplishment that is an example for the rest of the country.