Senate Passes Bipartisan Bill to Protect Communities from Landslides

July 31, 2020

The U.S. Senate yesterday unanimously approved bipartisan legislation led by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, to help communities prepare for and respond to landslides and other natural hazards.

S. 529, the National Landslide Preparedness Act, will help protect communities and property, save lives, and improve emergency preparedness and planning by targeting key gaps in current science and mapping that are critical to understanding landslide hazards and risks.

“In 2014, we saw how devastating landslides can be, when the Oso landslide tragically killed 43 people and caused millions of dollars in damage,” Cantwell said. “This bill will help keep communities and infrastructure safe by improving preparedness for landslides and other natural hazards.”

“Alaskans are currently monitoring what could be one of the largest landslide threats in state history—an unstable slope that sits above a retreating glacier in Barry Arm, which could trigger a tsunami in Prince William Sound,” Murkowski said. “This legislation will equip scientists with the necessary tools to help communities prepare for and respond to hazard events—whether the threat is from a landslide, earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami, or avalanche. Improving data collection and early warning systems will help with coordination during natural disasters, when every second counts.”

“In 2014, Colorado experienced the longest landslide in our state’s history. This tragic event upended lives and devastated communities,” Gardner said. “I’m pleased the Senate passed this important bipartisan legislation to improve emergency coordination efforts and address the vulnerability of our state’s infrastructure brought on by these natural catastrophes.”

“Americans are already feeling the impacts of the climate crisis. As catastrophic natural disasters like landslides continue to threaten the health and safety of families, our communities must be better prepared,” Wyden said. “I’m glad to see the Senate take this important step toward making sure they have access to the technology and resources needed to be ready when the next disaster strikes.”

“Too many Californians have lost their homes, businesses or lives to devastating landslides. As we experience more extreme weather and severe wildfires due to climate change, the risk for deadly landslides will also increase. We must be ready. Our legislation will help communities identify risks and better prepare for future landslides,” Feinstein said.

“Alaska’s unique and rugged geography puts some of our communities in the crosshairs of a potential landslide, tsunami or avalanche—a concern that is only exacerbated by the state’s seismicity,” Sullivan said. “We can’t wait until after a catastrophic event to invest in the research, mapping and warning systems needed to understand these threats and protect communities and lives. I appreciate members of the Senate, under Senator Murkowski’s leadership, working together to equip the U.S. Geological Survey with this new program and funding to help us mitigate the risks and respond effectively in a moment’s notice the next time disaster strikes.” 

S. 529 establishes a National Landslide Hazards Reduction Program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to better identify and understand landslide risks, protect communities, save lives and property, and help improve emergency preparedness.

In addition, the bill codifies USGS’ 3D Elevation Program, which is needed to update and coordinate the collection of elevation data across the country using enhanced, high-resolution surveys. Enhanced elevation data helps communities plan for and respond to natural hazards and provides critical data to inform decision making for public safety, national security, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, and natural resource management.

S. 529 now moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for that chamber’s consideration.

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