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Public Statements

Catastrophic Cuts

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WU. I thank the gentleman, my friend, and the adjoining Representative on my southern border and my colleague from the State of Oregon.

We rise together, and I rise today to recognize the tremendous tragedy that has struck Japan early this morning. This tragedy follows on other tragedies similar in nature that affected Chile earlier this year and Haiti in the very recent past.

We in the Pacific Northwest feel a special connection to these events because we have the Cascadia fault off the coast of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. And about a 250-mile stretch of the Cascadia fault is locked tight. With great regularity since the last Ice Age 12,000 years ago--the furthest back that we can reach in our studies--this fault locked up, has snapped and created earthquakes of 9.0 magnitude, very similar to the 8.9 Richter scale-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan early this morning.

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people and to their friends and relatives who are here in the United States.

We have an obligation, and we have an ability to mitigate these problems, to plan for them, and to reduce the risk to the American people and to Oregonians. My All Hazards legislation passed in the last Congress addresses these risks in a comprehensive way. By uniting the risks of fire, wind, flood, and earthquakes we can better allocate scarce resources in this era of scarce resources so that we can get a better buy on the Federal dollar.

Different agencies are involved in reducing the risk of earthquake. We know about FEMA and how it can do a great job and how it can do a poor job. FEMA is primarily engaged in the business of recovering from

natural disasters, and it is part of the All Hazards legislation that I passed last session.

NIST, one of the agencies under the jurisdiction of the subcommittee which I chaired last Congress, NIST is in the business of prevention, of researching what causes building failure, of doing model codes, of promulgating model codes so that the local and State building codes can encourage and, indeed, require more earthquake-resistant buildings and, indeed, also other infrastructure such as rail lines, bridges, and airports. These are all important infrastructure that in Chile survived to a decent extent.

With the severe earthquake in Japan, even with Japan's high standards, a remarkable number of structures are currently incapacitated, and we can do better and we will do better by adequately supporting these very important research and standard-setting agencies.

Furthermore, an agency that Mr. Schrader talked about, NOAA, that is going to bring jobs to Oregon. And an important part of Mr. Schrader's congressional district, but important to the whole Northwest and to our Nation, indeed, NOAA does a crucial service by helping to support education, educating not just our young people but all citizens about earthquakes and especially tsunami.

It is these people just out of college who are funded with fellowships, and they call together sessions--and I've seen these sessions convene in our State of Oregon--and they educate the residents about how to reduce their risk, how to behave during an earthquake, how to evacuate and the best routes to take to escape the follow-on tsunami. These are crucial activities to surviving an earthquake and the earthquake's natural consequence off our coast, a tsunami.

And it's not just the residents of the coast, because the population of the coast is swelled several times by inland residents who come to Oregon's beautiful shoreline. And those students and those adults also need this education so that, instead of going out to the shore to look at a receding waterline, which many people in Indonesia did--you know, it's a natural curiosity; right? And you don't necessarily know that a tsunami is about to follow.

This kind of education is so you know to head for high ground right now. Don't delay. As soon as the ground stops moving, head for high ground. This inexpensive education will save lives. It's what has been done in some parts of the world, and it has saved lives. It hasn't been done in other parts of the world, and the casualty figures reflect it.

The All Hazards legislation which I was able to pass in the last Congress knits these different components together: NOAA for education purposes; NIST to set standards, to do research, to prevent building collapses and bridge collapses and other collapses which cost us money and business downtime; FEMA to recover from that damage which occurs. These are crucial things to do, and we know what the price of inaction is.

This government has responded heroically and well when minimal, appropriate investments are made. And when those investments aren't made, when the preparing agencies aren't prepared themselves, then we have something like Katrina, where American citizens were found floating face down in the dark waters of New Orleans. We should never, ever fail Americans in that manner again.

And Mr. Schrader and Mr. DeFazio and I, we'll be darned if we're going to let Oregonians suffer the way that some Americans have had to. Making these small-dollar investments today, we'll save lives tomorrow.

It's the smart thing to do. It's the wise thing to do. It's the right thing to do. Pinch pennies and pound foolish will cost us lives.

Today's tragic earthquake and tsunami that brought devastation to Japan was a stark reminder of the importance of disaster preparedness for Oregon's coastal communities.

Over half of people in the United States reside in coastal areas, and billions of dollars of commercial and recreational activity depend on healthy oceans and coasts.

The efficiency of tsunami response efforts this morning in Oregon, Hawaii, and elsewhere demonstrates the hard work that community officials have already put toward tsunami preparation.

At the same time, we must be ready for the kind of disaster scenario that Japan faced this morning, one that presents much shorter warning times and a devastating ocean surge.

Local officials are doing their part, but the federal government has a critical role to play in hazards preparation and response efforts.

Without continued federal funding for ocean observation, seafloor modeling, and projects that build the infrastructure for withstanding ocean surge, the next tsunami could be devastating to vulnerable ocean communities.

All of the federal R&D agencies, even if it's not their primary mission, have a hand in hazard preparation and response. For example, in the aftermath of last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti, NASA used their satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to predict where mudslides were going to occur.

Our thoughts today are with the people of Japan, who have suffered widespread loss of life and destruction of property. Oregonians and all Americans stand ready to assist the Japanese people in rebuilding and recovery efforts.


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