State Agencies Seek Disaster Relief Map of Vulnerable Residents

Sen. Betsy Johnson nearly quashed a plan for state agencies to seek federal funds to keep track of disabled and elderly residents in case of a Katrina- scale emergency, saying the agencies would be duplicating others’ efforts and stepping beyond their authority.
If Mount Hood erupted or a tsunami swept the Coast, first responders may have no way to identify where the most vulnerable residents live. Natural disasters may only increase with global warming changing the nature of Oregon’s fragile climate and ecology, threatening more mudslides or flash floods.
 
After Hurricane Katrina hit east of New Orleans and that city’s levee system failed, elderly people shut in their homes died because there was no systematic way to reach them.
 
A special meeting of the Joint Ways & Means Committee last Friday narrowly approved a $300,000 National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration grant proposal for the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Land Conservation and Development that asks for funding to develop an overly map of potential hazard zones with the locations of elderly and disabled residents who may need help fleeing their homes.
 
The state agencies would work with the University of Oregon and the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to develop a social vulnerability index, which will also help the state mitigate property damage.
 
The legislative budget committee needed to sign off on the grant application, and the approval was almost derailed after a number of Republicans and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-
Scappoose, opposed the idea.
 
“We can’t make buses just mysteriously appear. Mapping the problem without solving it will do nothing,” Johnson said, noting that coastal areas have already come up with evacuation plans. She represents Tillamook and Clatsop counties on the North Coast, as well as her home county of Columbia, northwest of Portland.
 
She criticized the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries: “That’s an agency that’s operating in increasing imperious isolation,” as well as the Oregon Health Authority, which she said had grown far beyond its original mission.
 
“If OHA takes on one more responsibility, it can just do it all,” Johnson quipped. “They’ll be telling the Department of Forestry how to cut trees.”
 
The partnership with the Department of Land Conservation and Development is not the first entrée the Oregon Health Authority has made into the problem of climate change. 
 
The Public Health Division recently hired a special epidemiologist to examine the negative health impacts of global warming.
 
Johnson was backed by Rep. Tim Freeman, R-Roseburg, who argued the information could be used in Orwellian ways: “That’s a very interesting set of data. I’m curious how it will be used: Let’s go help these people first or let’s not waste our time with them.”
 
But Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, and Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, held the day, noting the state’s desire to avoid a Katrina-type situation, and convincing Johnson to allow the grant application to go forward. Several Republicans remained opposed.
 
“One of the problems they had was they didn’t know where people were,” Bates said. “It’s only $300,000 for two years — I doubt they’ll get very much done with that, frankly.”
 
Bates said that Department of Land Conservation and Development and the Oregon Health Authority would need to work closely with county governments to get the job done.
 
The grant award period would run from August 2014 to July 2016, if NOAA approves the application.
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