Suzan DelBene speaking at NPI's 2013 Spring Fundraising Gala
Suzan DelBene speaking at NPI's 2013 Spring Fundraising Gala (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya LLC)

For years, our team at the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute has been call­ing on our state and fed­er­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives to increase fund­ing for geo­log­ic haz­ards research and require pub­lic agen­cies to gath­er the data we need to bet­ter under­stand the risks that we face from land­slides, vol­ca­noes, lahars, and tsunamis.

Today, the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives answered the call, at least in part, by pass­ing H.R. 1261, the Nation­al Land­slide Pre­pared­ness Act.

Spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, who rep­re­sents NPI’s home con­gres­sion­al dis­trict (Wash­ing­ton’s 1st), this bill would advance our under­stand­ing of the geol­o­gy behind land­slides and make funds avail­able for emer­gency pre­pared­ness pro­grams per­tain­ing to landslides.

Here’s a syn­op­sis of the bill from

This bill directs the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS) to estab­lish a Nation­al Land­slide Haz­ards Reduc­tion Pro­gram to iden­ti­fy and under­stand land­slide haz­ards and risks, reduce loss­es from land­slides, pro­tect com­mu­ni­ties at risk of land­slide haz­ards, and help improve com­mu­ni­ca­tion and emer­gency preparedness.

The USGS shall, among oth­er things:

  • devel­op and pub­lish a nation­al strat­e­gy for land­slide haz­ards, risk reduc­tion, and response in the Unit­ed States (includ­ing territories);
  • devel­op and main­tain a pub­licly acces­si­ble nation­al land­slide haz­ard and risk inven­to­ry database;
  • expand the ear­ly warn­ing sys­tem for debris flow; and
  • estab­lish emer­gency response pro­ce­dures for the rapid deploy­ment of fed­er­al sci­en­tists, equip­ment, and ser­vices to areas impact­ed by a sig­nif­i­cant land­slide event.

The USGS may pro­vide grants to research, map, assess, and col­lect data on land­slide hazards.

The Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion may pro­vide grants to eli­gi­ble enti­ties for land­slide research.

The USGS (1) shall estab­lish the 3D Ele­va­tion Pro­gram and the 3D Ele­va­tion Fed­er­al Inter­a­gency Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, and (2) may make grants and enter into coop­er­a­tive agree­ments to facil­i­tate the improve­ment of nation­wide cov­er­age of 3D ele­va­tion data.

We can’t think Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Del­Bene enough for her tremen­dous work on this bill. Thanks to her lead­er­ship and ded­i­ca­tion, we’re one step clos­er to get­ting more fund­ing for geo­log­ic haz­ards research. This is a great vic­to­ry for Cascadia.

Suzan DelBene speaking at NPI's 2013 Spring Fundraising Gala
Suzan Del­Bene speak­ing at NPI’s 2013 Spring Fundrais­ing Gala (Pho­to: Lin­coln Potter/Samaya LLC)

“This vic­to­ry has been a long time com­ing for the vic­tims, fam­i­lies, friends and the entire Oso com­mu­ni­ty, and hon­ors our com­mit­ment to do every­thing pos­si­ble to ensure we have the tools to help pre­vent these types of dis­as­ters,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Del­Bene in a state­ment fol­low­ing pas­sage of the bill.

“None of us will ever for­get March 22, 2014, when a trag­ic land­slide took the lives of 43 peo­ple and wiped out homes, busi­ness­es and roads. Today’s pas­sage of this leg­is­la­tion allows us to make sig­nif­i­cant progress in land­slide sci­ence and will allow com­mu­ni­ties to be bet­ter pre­pared for when land­slides do occur. I look for­ward to the Sen­ate fol­low­ing suit and pass­ing this bill,” Del­Bene added.

Aerial view of the Stillguamish River and SR 530 after the March 22, 2014 landslide
The Oso land­slide on March 22 result­ed in the damming of the Stil­laguamish Riv­er in Sno­homish Coun­ty. Mud cov­er­ing the area, includ­ing SR 530, is a mile wide. (Pho­to: Wash­ing­ton State Depart­ment of Transportation)

The House passed H.R. 1261 on a voice vote, which means there is no roll call to share and the bill did not attract sig­nif­i­cant opposition.

Sen­a­tor Maria Cantwell has intro­duced com­pan­ion leg­is­la­tion in the Senate.

“I know first-hand the mon­u­men­tal impacts our com­mu­ni­ty was chal­lenged with dur­ing the 2014 Oso land­slide,” said Dar­ring­ton May­or Dan Rankin.

“In just over two min­utes, we lost forty-three of our fam­i­ly, friends and neigh­bors, we lost our main high­way, our abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate beyond the slide via phone or inter­net, and med­ical ser­vices,” Rankin recollected.

“Pre­scrip­tion ser­vices and trans­ac­tions were also not avail­able. This is just the tip of the ice­berg of the imme­di­ate impacts of this one event. The leg­is­la­tion that Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Del­Bene has brought for­ward may not pre­vent anoth­er Oso slide but it gives com­mu­ni­ties like Dar­ring­ton data that we can use to make impor­tant deci­sions about land use in haz­ard areas, response from our emer­gency ser­vices, and redun­dan­cy in infra­struc­ture so pre­cious time is not lost in a time of need.”

May­or Rankin is cor­rect. If we don’t under­stand the sci­ence behind slides like the one that swamped Oso five years ago, then we won’t be able to save lives and prop­er­ty before the next slide hits. That’s why it’s cru­cial that this leg­is­la­tion be passed and signed into law. And at the state lev­el, the Wash­ing­ton State House and Sen­ate need to give our Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources the fund­ing they’ve been ask­ing for to study slides in the upcom­ing sup­ple­men­tal budget.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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