Cassidy, Schatz to Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Create Independent Board to Investigate Major Natural Disasters, Make Policy Recommendations, Save Lives

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) announced that they will introduce The Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act of 2020. The bipartisan legislation will create a new permanent and independent board to study the underlying causes of disaster related fatalities and property damage nationwide. The National Disaster Safety Board (NDSB) will make recommendations to all levels of government on how to improve the resiliency of communities across the country.

“Americans across the country from the Gulf Coast to California are dealing with the results of natural disasters. Another hurricane is zeroing in on Louisiana right now. By establishing a natural disaster safety board, lessons learned from past disasters save lives and perhaps even prevent future disasters,” said Dr. Cassidy.

“With climate change causing more frequent and severe natural disasters, we need more data to make sure our communities are resilient and prepared to respond to the next crisis,” said Senator Schatz. “Our bill creates a new independent board to investigate major natural disasters and gives policymakers and the public a full accounting of what happened and what should happen next.”

Currently, policymakers rely on a patchwork of studies, after-action reports, audits, and media reports to understand the impacts of natural disasters, which are inconsistent and vulnerable to political pressure.

The NDSB is modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an existing organization that investigates plane crashes, major railroad accidents, and commercial highway accidents. The NTSB is tasked with studying the underlying causes that may lead to similar accidents in the future – and its reviews and recommendations are considered to be a gold standard internationally. The NTSB has saved lives: the rate of air travel fatalities has decreased more than 99 percent since 1960. The NDSB would apply the best principles of the NTSB to natural disasters.

Similar to the NTSB, the NDSB would be independent. Its seven members will be chosen for their experience in emergency management, public health, engineering, social and behavioral sciences, and experience working at the state and local level and with vulnerable communities.

Low-income communities, communities of color, the elderly, and people with disabilities all suffer disproportionately in natural disasters. The NDSB includes a special office to focus on disaster impacts to these communities and will ensure that recommendations are made to protect them moving forward. 

Rather than assigning blame, NDSB reviews and recommendations will seek to offer policymakers a path forward to build more resilient communities.

The NDSB will work collaboratively with affected state and local governments, ensuring they have the opportunity to comment on reports and recommendations before publication. The NDSB will also offer technical assistance to support jurisdictions implementing its resiliency recommendations.  

Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Garret Graves (R-La.).

“Emergency managers are called to assist communities on their worst day. It is always a question of when, not if, we will be called on again; therefore, it is important to continuously improve — evaluate and incorporate lessons learned to inform future incident responses. The National Disaster Safety Board (NDSB) is a transformational concept designed to build upon successes while highlighting where there is room for improvement in a way that will benefit the entire emergency management community and those we serve,” said Brock Long, Former FEMA Administrator (2017-2019).

“As a former FEMA Administrator, I support the creation of the National Disaster Safety Board. 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,” said Craig Fugate, Former FEMA Administrator (2009-2017).

The Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act is supported by Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety, American Society of Civil Engineers, Enterprise Community Partners, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Institute for Diversity and Inclusion in Emergency Management, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the Association of State Floodplain Managers. 

For a one pager of the bill, click here. For a copy of the bill text, click here.