Thursday, August 08, 2019

Hern introduces bill on emergency communications during floods


Rep. Hern Introduces Bill to Address Emergency Communications During Floods

Tulsa, OK – At the end of July, Representative Kevin Hern (OK-01) sponsored his first bill as a Member of Congress. H.R. 3944 amends the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, addressing the communications shortfalls Oklahomans experienced during the flooding this past May.

“Seeing firsthand the disaster that hit our community in May, I had to do something,” said Rep. Hern. “I spoke with people in our community, met with officials from FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers, emergency responders, and city leaders to determine what went wrong and how we could better prepare for floods like this in the future. It was clear that communication paths needed a fix. This bill will streamline communication of risk from the moment that the National Weather Service forecasts potential flooding. I hope this will help our community and other like it across the country prevent disasters like what we experienced in May from happening again.”

BACKGROUND:
This spring, Oklahoma’s First District was devastated by flooding. Unfortunately, while the Army Corps of Engineers always do well to respond in these situations, failing infrastructure and bureaucratic hurdles hamper their overall ability to provide adequate emergency communications.

Because of this, Congressman Hern is introducing this legislation to add another tool to the Army Corp’s belt. This reform will grant the Army Corps of Engineers the ability to better communicate impending disasters with our community and potentially give our constituents more time to prepare for flooding in the future. While we can’t stop these disasters from occurring, we can always be more prepared, and this bill will help us to achieve that.

This bill requires the Army Corps of Engineers to send emergency communications earlier, so constituents are better protected against disaster.

  • Currently, the U.S. Code directs the Army Corps of Engineers to only send out emergency communications when “precipitation or runoff exceeds those calculations considered as the lowest risk to life and property.”
  • This bill would adjust this requirement so that the Army Corps of Engineers would also send this emergency communication when the National Weather Service forecasts the possibility of precipitation or runoff exceeding calculations considered the lowest risk to life and property.
  • This would better help local and state governments to make more informed plans ahead of time to prepare constituents, and to help them to better preempt any dangers caused by water releases.

QUESTIONS ABOUT H.R 3944

Would this bill force the Army Corps of Engineers to make releases before flood water accumulates on the ground?
No, this bill would do nothing to change the Army Corp of Engineer’s policy of not making releases until water accumulates, as is safer due to changing forecasts.


Rather, this bill will ensure quicker emergency communications from the Army Corps to localities so that constituents would get a more advanced notice of impending floods, and so that they would be able to react accordingly.

What if the forecasts under-anticipate the amount of precipitation?
Congressman Hern understands the potential errors of forecasting. Because of this, H.R.3944 requires emergency communication from the Army Corps when the forecasts require it, and when precipitation and run-off actually exceeds those calculations considered as the lowest risk to life and property, as is currently utilized.

In having both of these events as triggers for emergency communications, Congressman Hern’s bill will also protect constituents in the off-chance that flooding is not forecasted, but still occurs.

The bill text can be found here.

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