Edited Version of August 16, 2000 Transcript
EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation

"How Can You Support the Natural Hazards Caucus?"

Peter Folger
Public Affairs Manager
American Geophysical Union

David Applegate
Director of Government Affairs
American Geological Institute

Avagene Moore - Moderator
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the August 16, 2000 online Virtual Library presentation is available in the EIIP Virtual Library Archives (http://www.emforum.org/vlibrary/livechat.htm). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each input were deleted but the content of questions and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers to participants’ questions are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! We are delighted to see each of you here today. Your presence demonstrates your interest in today's topic - a topic that needs the support of all folks in this business.

And now to our speakers: Peter Folger is Public Affairs Manager for the American Geophysical Union, an international scientific society of Earth and space scientists with over 38,000 members headquartered in Washington, D.C.

David Applegate is Director of Government Affairs at the American Geological Institute. Before coming to AGI in 1995, David served with the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources as the American Geophysical Union's Congressional Science Fellow and as a professional staff member for the minority.

Help me welcome both Peter and David! They are here with an overall goal of tell us 'how we can help support the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus.' Peter will lead off with his remarks now and then turn the floor to David.


Peter Folger: Thank you, Ava, and thanks to EIIP for giving us the opportunity to be here. Welcome to today's discussion of the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus. I am going to begin with an introduction of what caucuses are, what they do (or don't do), how they can be effective, and how the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus fits in.

The following URL briefly describes what a caucus is and why they exist.

[Slide 1]

The first example listed on the URL is not tongue-in-cheek, the caucus actually exists and once they fulfill their goal of completing Interstate 69, then the caucus will presumably go away. The second example is, obviously, much broader in scope and does not have a specific legislative agenda other than broad support for science and technology.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both types. Often legislators find it easier to raise interest and rally support for a narrowly focused objective, like a highway. The disadvantage is that only a small number of legislators whose interests are directly affected by a narrowly focused objective will actually become involved.

A broadly focused caucus has a greater chance to attract more members. But it also runs the risk of not being able to accomplish something tangible that members of the caucus can claim credit for. It would be difficult, for example, to find a member of Congress who is against science and technology. Getting that same member to put his or her specific support behind legislation is much more difficult.

What does a caucus do? This URL lists some specific actions.

[Slide 2]

These activities all fall under the general notion that a caucus exists to educate members of Congress and their staffs.

What makes a caucus successful? There are dozens of caucuses in the House and Senate, as well as bicameral organizations. Many exist in name only. Some of the more successful, meaning influential or active caucuses, share some of the following ingredients:

[Slide 3]

Just in case you thought I was kidding about the number of caucuses on the Hill, here are the House of Representatives caucuses:

[Slide 4]

Here are the Senate caucuses:

[Slide 5]

And for the sake of completeness, the bicameral ones:

[Slide 6]

The challenge for the Natural Hazards Caucus is to rise above the fray and become a caucus that members perceive as influential, important to their interests, and worth joining.

Now Dave Applegate will introduce the Natural Hazards Caucus.

Dave Applegate: Thanks, Pete! And thanks to all for tuning in to this discussion.

The primary goal of establishing a congressional natural hazards caucus is to develop a wider understanding within Congress that reducing the risks and costs of natural disasters is a public value. That requires educating Members and staff about the costs of natural disasters to their districts and states, and the benefits their constituents will realize through greater efforts to understand, prevent, and mitigate natural disasters.

The caucus would provide Members with an opportunity to demonstrate their concern and commitment to reducing hazard losses. Supporting organizations would benefit from access to a standing body of interested legislators as a mechanism to promote specific initiatives.

My initial remarks are outlined at:

[Slide 7]

The idea for forming a Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus grew out of the seventh Public Private Partnership (PPP) Forum (http://www.usgs.gov/ppp2000), which AGI, AGU, and the IRIS Consortium co-sponsored on the topic of real-time monitoring and warning for natural hazards. I encourage you to visit the PPP site later on and see the reports from those forums.

The forums -- organized by the federal interagency Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction and the Institute for Business and Home Safety -- were forging links between the federal agencies on the public side and the natural hazards loss reduction community on the private side. But forum participants recognized the value of forming stronger public-private ties with Congress as the public partner.

So why a caucus?

One of the challenges we face with Congress is that jurisdiction for natural hazards programs is spread among many committees in both the House and Senate. Each committee only handles a piece of the overall efforts to prevent and mitigate natural disasters.

A caucus can provide the "big picture" to interested lawmakers and their staff, and give them the opportunity to see how the issues that fall within individual committee jurisdictions fit within a larger national effort.

A successful caucus reflects a strong partnership between its congressional members and groups outside Congress that share similar interests. Outside groups work with caucus co-chairs and their staffs to map out the agenda for the caucus and then bring their speakers up to the Hill for briefings.

This serves to educate caucus members, their staffs, and other members of Congress on the key issues, and provides an opportunity for outside groups to interact with members and staff and establish better working relationships. In that sense, a caucus can be viewed as a public-private partnership.

Before going to the Hill, we started by pulling together a working group of organizations with an interest in this area, including science and engineering societies, relief organizations, emergency managers, the insurance industry, land-use planners, university consortia. A recent list of work group organizations can be viewed at:

[Slide 8]

I should add that the list keeps growing, and we welcome additional organizations. Just contact either Pete ( [email protected] ) or me ( [email protected] ).

The work group put together some shared objectives:

* Focus greater attention in Congress on the natural and man-made hazards facing the nation and improve understanding of the need to mitigate against the impacts of floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, landslides and land subsidence, tornadoes, volcanoes, wind storms, drought, fire, and tsunamis.

* Foster better land-use planning and optimize building codes.

* Strengthen public and private support for science and engineering research by demonstrating how application of advances in science and engineering research can contribute to saving lives and money.

* Support the implementation of new technologies, such as geographic information systems, to address societal challenges faced by state and local government and the private sector.

* Identify additional areas of consensus and common interests related to natural hazards.

Slide 9 shows our timeline for putting together the work group and forming the caucus:

[Slide 9]

Now a bit about assembling the Caucus: Once we had a work group assembled, the next task was to identify leaders in Congress who could co-chair the caucus itself. The co-chairs and their staffs are key to recruiting other Members and to keeping a high level of interest in the caucus. Co-chairs and their staffs set the agenda for the caucus and work most closely with our groups to organize, advertise, and run caucus events. Co-chairs should represent both political parties and a broad geographical distribution.

We were very fortunate to get the work group's top two choices on the Senate side: Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Senator John Edwards (D-N.Car.). Stevens brings the clout of a senior senator and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, whereas Edwards is a junior senator from a state that has been hard hit by natural disasters, hence quite eager to see improvements in how we cope with disasters. We are quite grateful to them both for stepping up on this important issue.

These two senators sent out a "Dear Colleague" letter this spring encouraging other senators to join. The text of the letter can be found in an alert that my organization sent out at that time: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/caucus_alert0300.html

So far, the caucus has 18 senators, and we are eager to sign up more. The list is at:

[Slide 11]

If your senators are not on the list, I encourage you to contact them and encourage them to join. Their staff should contact Laura Godwin (Senator Edwards’ office) who has kindly joined us today.

I should note that we hope to expand the caucus into the House of Representatives in the coming months with the first task being to identify House co-chairs. Any thoughts on that front are also welcome.

I should also note that even as we were putting together this caucus, the American Society of Civil Engineers was spearheading the creation of a House Wind Hazards Reduction Caucus, chaired by Reps. Dennis Moore (D-Kansas) and Walter Jones (R-N.Car.).

Their focus is on passing specific legislation -- of which they already have a draft -- to establish a federal wind research program similar to the interagency National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program. For more on their efforts, contact Brian Pallasch at ASCE ( [email protected] ).

These two caucus efforts are complementary and, we feel, reflect the growing interest in hazard issues on the Hill.

Now to caucus events --- as Pete mentioned, typical caucus events include Capitol Hill luncheon briefings, roundtable discussions, special forums, receptions, and events targeted to a subgroup of the caucus. Events can also be structured so that they also provide a forum for raising the visibility of a hazards-related topic with the media and American public.

The natural hazard caucus held its first event in June, a forum chaired by Senators Edwards and Stevens. Slide 10 lists the speakers:

[Slide 10]

The opening remarks of Senator Edwards and the text of several of the presentations are available at the caucus website. See the following: http://www.senate.gov/~edwards/cnhc/index.html

I particularly encourage you to read the remarks by Bill Hooke of the American Meteorological Society. Bill recently retired from NOAA, where he served as chair of the Subcommittee on Natural Disaster Reduction. We were quite fortunate to have lead-off remarks from FEMA Director James Lee Witt. His comments are also on the site.

At the forum, the senators tasked the work group with putting together a white paper that will serve as a blueprint for caucus priorities and activities in the next Congress. The work group is currently working on that paper and hopes to have a draft by early September. The caucus may hold an event later that month to review the white paper and have a roundtable discussion with senators and representatives of the hazard reduction community.

Some of the questions to be addressed by the white paper are:

* How is America vulnerable to natural disasters?

* What is the federal role?

* What is the current state of knowledge and how do we encourage application of technology?

* Where are the gaps in preparation, knowledge, coordination, mitigation, and codes?

We recognize that a great deal of pertinent information and analysis is already out there and plan to draw on documents such as "Disasters by Design," FEMA's National Mitigation Strategy, and the PPP 2000 reports, just to cite three examples. We hope to avoid any wheel reinvention!

That's it for the formal presentation. We would both be happy to answer any questions. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss the caucus! Back to you Ava!

[Questions &Answers]

Avagene Moore: We appreciate your remarks, Peter and David. You both did a great job for us today. Thank you!

If you have a question, please input a question mark (?) to the chat screen. Compose your question or comment but hold it until I recognize you by name, then input to the screen. Please address your question to either Peter or David. We will take your questions in the order which they appear on the screen. We are ready for your questions now.


J. P. DeMeritt: This question is for David. Regarding the questions you're addressing in the white paper, will you address how disasters and society might change over the next 1 - 5 decades and how that might change our preparation and response?

David Applegate: Great question. Pete or Laura, feel free to jump in. One of the challenges with Congress, which operates on a 2-year cycle, is how to address these long-term issues. I certainly hope we can help to do that.

Laura Godwin: I agree with Dave. I'm not sure we would be able to address that specific question in this white paper but we will look to that in the future.

Peter Folger: The caucus should try to focus on short and long term goals. But as David remarked, we have to tie in the activities with the short time frame on the Hill


David Crews: Are you doing any Strategic Planning? Are Caucus products available on your activities, such as the PPP website?

Dave Applegate: Well, this caucus is just getting running. The first product will start with the white paper being drafted and that will be available through either the workgroup http://www.agiweb.org/workgroup or the Senate site mentioned above. I can't really address the Strategic Plan question, but it’s a good one.

Laura Godwin: The white paper will also be on Sen. Edwards' Web site.


Avagene Moore: How is work carried out by the Working Group? Does being a member require physical presence or meetings in DC?

Peter Folger: We have been meeting in DC but much of the conversation takes place via email.

Dave Applegate: So a physical presence in DC isn't critical.


Avagene Moore: You currently have 18 Senators involved in the caucus. How can we help encourage more to come on board and how many do we need to really be a powerhouse caucus?

Dave Applegate: They have to hear from their constituents is the bottom line. Hazards affect every state -- a message we want to drive home.

Laura Godwin: The more the better legislative power we have

Peter Folger: And constituents should cite the Dear Colleague letter that Edwards and Stevens sent out earlier


J. P. DeMeritt: If you're looking for a mechanism for helping Congress focus on long-term issues and effects, have you thought of advocating restarting the Office of Technology Assessment? OTA did the kinds of studies that would yield long-term trends and conditions.

Dave Applegate: There certainly was a void left behind and OTA did some nice studies on hazards. The National Academy is starting a Natural Hazards Roundtable which may help to fill the void, but your point is well taken.

Peter Folger: One advantage that the Caucus has over OTA is an ability to react more quickly. If an event is in the public's mind, the Caucus should be able to capitalize on the "teachable moment"


Neil Blais: There are a number of private firms applying technology for local & state emergency management agencies and FEMA. How will the white paper address this broad spectrum of individual effort?

Dave Applegate: Several of the work group members are such companies and I know they will be actively engaged in emphasizing the need to apply new technology to these problems.


Roger Kershaw: Does the caucus use input from the emergency services? I ask as I've often seen mandates, and assumptions made concerning the abilities of the Fire, EMS, Police, which may be conflicting, or beyond the agencies resources.

Peter Folger: NEMA is a member of the working group as is IAEM.

Dave Applegate: Emphasizing coordination is a key goal and working against the poor communication that has been such a challenge. Different agencies and even different parts of Congress have often been talking past each other.


Avagene Moore: Are there any limitations on who can be a member of the Working Group? Could a State Association join and be part of the group? I am thinking of emergency services groups such as fire, EMS, Law Enforcement --- related to Roger's concerns.

Dave Applegate: Yes, the Association of American State Geologists is a member as is NEMA and ASFPM. State and local government is key. We would like to pull in the counties (NACO) and governors (NGA) as well. We also want to coordinate with the Fire Caucus for obvious reasons.

Peter Folger: Welcome to Eric Tolbert, the North Carolina State Emergency Manager who was one of the speakers at the Caucus kickoff forum in June.

Avagene Moore: Yes, welcome Eric!

Dave Applegate: Yes, thanks to him for participating in that event!

Eric Tolbert: Thanks...it's a pleasure joining this important forum. We're very excited that our own Sen. Edwards had this vision to kick off this Caucus.


J. P. DeMeritt: Are commercial concerns members as well? I think The Arlington Institute, which researches disasters and other "wild card" events, might be a valuable partner in making Congress appreciate future disaster potentials.

Dave Applegate: Thanks for the suggestion. Please put them in touch; we certainly want to involve all sectors in the work group.


Isabel McCurdy: I am a Canadian and was wondering if membership is exclusive to United States only?

Dave Applegate: Well, this specific effort is US-focused, but making ties with Canadian Parliament would be great! You certainly share many of the same challenges!

Peter Folger: If Congress can see the link to the U.S. interest through those ties, even better


Avagene Moore: How extensive has publicity been on the Natural Hazards Caucus? I have seen very little about it and had to do some research in the spring to find out who the players are. Are formal organizations pushing this?

Dave Applegate: The work group members have been publicizing it within their communities. We had some press for the kickoff, but not as much as we would like. But to answer the question, we have a list serve of work group members.

Peter Folger: It is a good question, and getting more publicity will help spur other senators to join


Christopher Effgen: Do you have a press release mailing list or other mailing lists?

Peter Folger: Do you mean do we have a press list to send releases to?

Avagene Moore: Or -- do you have a mailing list individuals can subscribe to? I would think a subscriber mail list would be of interest to folks.

Christopher Effgen: Yes by email

Dave Applegate: It has been organization-based, but perhaps we should start one. We do have the Web site, but it is more passive.

Peter Folger: On the press front, working group member organization plus the senate members of the caucus have their press activities


Eric Tolbert: Is the primary interest of the caucus to focus on risk/cost reduction? Or, is there equal interest in all phases: preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation?

Laura Godwin: The Senator has an interest in all phases. Based on our experience with Floyd, the Senator has a real interest in mitigation.

Peter Folger: There is interest in all those aspects but certainly mitigation is a long-term goal for the caucus.

Dave Applegate: The key is to find issues for the senators to get credit for reducing losses before the disaster hits. That's a big challenge. Currently, the political capital is in bringing home the dollars after the fact


Avagene Moore: Our time is up for today. Peter and David, thank you for an excellent session. Audience, thank you for being here and your participation. I hope you benefited from the time here and that you will support the caucus.

Peter Folger: Thank you all very much, this was quite enjoyable and hopefully informative.

Dave Applegate: Yes, thanks!

Eric Tolbert: Hope to see many of you next week at NEMA's annual conference in Florida.

Avagene Moore: Before closing, just a word about next week's presentation: On Wednesday August 23, 12 Noon EDT, we will be in the EIIP Tech Arena. The topic will be "TranSafe: Internet Service for Transportation Emergency Response." Albert Slap, GeoSphere Systems, Inc. will be our featured speaker. Please mark your calendar for that discussion and demonstration.

I have two announcements of note: We have two new official EIIP Partners this week. They are US EPA Chemical Emergency Preparedness & Prevention Office (CEPPO) with Jennifer M. Browne as the designated Point of Contact (POC); and Consequence Management Interoperability Services (CMIS); Roger Fritzel is the POC. Welcome to both new Partners!

If interested in being an official Partner, see http://www.emforum.org/partners/criteria.htm --- you can easily sign up your agency or organization as an EIIP Partner.

You are welcome to stay a few moments after we adjourn to express your appreciation to Peter Folger and David Applegate and to chat among yourselves.

The August 16 EIIP Virtual Forum is officially adjourned!