Progress that honors victims

We are just a few weeks away from the first anniversary of the Oso landslide. On March 22, after a winter of drenching rains, the hillside tore away from itself above the Steelhead Drive neighborhood, wiping out Highway 530, destroying homes and killing 43 people.

The response, both immediate and longer term, has been heartening.

Recent action by the Legislature deserves our appreciation and further encouragement.

On Feb. 18, both House and Senate quickly passed, and Gov. Jay Inslee signed, a supplemental budget, much of which went to cover costs related to the response to the landslide and last summer’s devastating wildfires in Central Washington.

That same week the House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a bill to clarify the state’s disaster mobilization law. During the early response to the Oso disaster, an initial request for regional technical rescue assistance support and equipment was denied because of the belief that such support was available only during wildfires. The Legislature attempted to clarify the rule in 1995, and a finding by the SR 530 Landslide Commission last year confirmed the language appeared sufficient. Even so, the bill approved by the committee should remove all doubt and ensure that in the event of a landslide, earthquake or other such disaster, that resources for “all-hazard mobilization” will be available when needed.

Also last week, the Senate unanimously approved a bill, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, that will allow the state Department of Natural Resources to develop a database of maps of landslide-prone areas made using a technology called lidar, for Light Detection and Ranging, which uses airborne lasers to map possible hazards.

That’s the first step. The second step will be for the Legislature to include in the operating budget a Natural Resources request for $6.6 million to, among other costs, hire 14 people to collect and analyze the maps, which then will be available to state and local agencies, private developers and the public in making land-use decisions.

Those Legislative actions are a good start, but more can and should be done, and state and local officials need only to refer to the SR 530 Landslide Commission’s report, released in December, for more. Among the recommendations:

Increase the annual allocation to the Disaster Response Account to $10 million a year from the current $8 million. The account, which is drawn upon typically for wildfire responses, is often overdrawn by at least $2 million.

With the ability of local officials to call for regional “all-hazard” support clarified, assuming passage in the House, emergency officials at the local level should familiarize their agencies with how to request that support and should work to strengthen relationships with those state-wide incidence response teams.

Work to prevent and respond to future disasters will be among the best ways to honor the memories of those who died in the Oso landslide.

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