Cassidy reintroducing bill to create NTSB-like board for studying natural disasters

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., is joining U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in reintroducing bipartisan legislation that would create a permanent independent board to investigate the underlying causes of disaster-related fatalities and property damage nationwide and make policy recommendations to improve disaster resiliency.

The bill, known as the Disaster Learning and Life Saving Act, died when it was first brought before Congress last October. But in light of recent flooding events, Cassidy, who recently visited Cameron and Calcasieu parishes, says it’s time to again push for the proposed Natural Disaster Safety Board, which would study the disasters and recommend policy changes.

“It was clear that some of the lessons that could have been learned from the past hurricane recovery efforts have either not been learned or have not been implemented,” Cassidy says in a prepared statement. “The proposed Natural Disaster Safety Board memorializes these lessons, so that in future storms, wherever they may be across our country, recovery of life and community is faster and better.”

Currently, policymakers rely on a patchwork of studies, after-action reports, audits and media reports—approaches Cassidy has called inconsistent and vulnerable to political pressure.

Should the act pass, the NDSB would be modeled after the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates plane crashes, major railroad accidents and commercial highway accidents and makes policy recommendations. Since 1960, air travel fatalities have decreased by more than 99%.

Similar to the NTSB, the NDSB would be independent. Its seven members would 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.

The board would also include a special office to focus on disaster impacts to groups that suffer disproportionately in natural disasters, including low-income communities, communities of color and people with disabilities.

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

The reintroduction of the Disaster Learning and Safety Act comes two weeks after much of Baton Rouge flooded, causing businesses to close and leading frustrated victims to ask questions about when work will begin on several federally funded flood mitigation projects. Last week, East Baton Rouge Parish secured funding for two flood control projects through the Louisiana Watershed Initiative.