On November 16, 2023, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) reintroduced the Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act. This bipartisan legislation that would create an independent board to investigate major natural disasters nationwide.
The National Disaster Safety Board (NDSB) would specifically study the underlying causes of disaster-related fatalities and property damage, and make recommendations to all levels of government on how to make communities more resilient to the impacts of disasters.
“Just because Louisiana had a relatively quiet hurricane season this year, doesn’t mean it will stay this way,” said Senator Cassidy. “A natural disaster safety board memorializes lessons learned from past storms to save lives and possibly prevent future disasters across the country.”
“Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe every year, killing hundreds of people and destroying communities across the country – an unfortunate reality Hawai‘i witnessed this past summer with the devastating fires on Maui,” said Senator Schatz.
“But much of this death and destruction is predictable and preventable, and we need to do everything we can to protect people and make our communities more resilient. Our bill would create an independent board to investigate major natural disasters and provide policymakers and the public with a full account of what happened as well as data-informed recommendations that will prepare them for the next crisis,” he added.
Currently, policymakers have to rely on a patchwork of studies, after-action reports, audits, and media reports – which are inconsistent and vulnerable to political pressure – to understand the impacts of natural disasters.
“This year, the U.S. has faced 25 disasters exceeding $1 billion in losses, which have tragically caused over 460 deaths. To make federal disaster assistance programs more effective, mitigate risks, and ultimately save lives and costs, independent investigations of major disasters and proactive research are imperative,” said former FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and former HUD Deputy Secretary Pamela Patenaude, co-chairs of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Disaster Response Reform Task Force.
“We commend Senators Cassidy and Schatz for reintroducing the Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act of 2023, which would create a National Disaster Safety Board and help address this critical need in our disaster management system,” she continued.
The NDSB would aim to be a centralized national hub for data collection and analysis, helping communities across the country better understand disaster impacts and learn best practices for improving resiliency.
The NDSB is modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which investigates major transportation accidents and provides reviews and recommendations to prevent future ones.
“The lowest-income and most marginalized disaster survivors are often hardest hit by disasters, and they continue to face the steepest, longest path to a complete and equitable recovery,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“By analyzing the impact of our nation’s disaster housing recovery response efforts and making this critical data publicly available, the Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act from Senators Cassidy and Schatz can help policymakers take important and necessary steps to reform America’s broken system for disaster housing response and recovery,” she added.
The NDSB’s seven members would bring experience in emergency management, public health, engineering, social and behavioral sciences, as well as experience working at the state and local levels and with vulnerable communities.
“I am pleased to continue lending my support to this important legislation. Emergency managers are often called to assist communities on their worst day and, given today’s risks – both natural and manmade – it is a question of when, not if, we will be called upon to respond; so, we must continuously work to progress our profession,” said Brock Long, Executive Chairman of Hagerty Consulting & Former FEMA Administrator (2017-2019).
“The National Disaster Safety Board is designed to help us do just that – build upon successes while highlighting where there is room for improvement in a way that will transform the field of emergency management and those we serve,” he explained.
Additionally, given that low-income communities, communities of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities suffer disproportionately during natural disasters, the NDSB would include a dedicated office focused on disaster impacts to these communities and ensure that specific recommendations are made to protect them.
“As a former FEMA Administrator, I support the creation of the National Disaster Safety Board,” said Craig Fugate, former FEMA Administrator (2009-2017).
“Current review of disasters too often focus on individual performance failures rather than system failures. We fail to learn from the current response reviews and repeat many of these observed failures in the next event. A National Board that can review all levels of Government to learn what worked and what we should do differently before the next disaster will be key to building a resilient Nation against all hazards,” he continued.
The NDSB would also offer technical assistance to support jurisdictions implementing its resiliency recommendations.
“There are many lessons to be learned after each and every natural disaster, yet we hardly ever take the time to do it,” said Chad Berginnis, CFM, Executive Director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
“Flooding alone has cost our nation over $200 billion in economic losses in the past two years. We must be more intentional in learning from these events to be more resilient, and ASFPM applauds Senators Cassidy and Schatz for their introduction of the common sense Disaster Learning and Life Savings Act,” he concluded.
The Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act is supported by the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, Enterprise Community Partners, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Association of State Floodplain Managers, and BPC Action.
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