Hutchison: Destructive Tornadoes & Raging Wildfires Underscore Need for Federal Investments in Disaster Preparedness and Response

May 3, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During a hearing to probe the impact of federal investments in disaster preparedness and response, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Ranking Member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, stressed the need to aid the tornado ravaged Southeast and portions of Texas scorched by wildfires. Senator Hutchison also welcomed Texas witness Dr. Clint Dawson of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin. Dr. Dawson is pursuing storm surge modeling innovations through computer modeling made possible with “Ranger,” UT’s advanced supercomputer.

            Senator Hutchison submitted the following opening statement into the record:

            I would like to express my sincere condolences to the victims of the recent natural disasters that have devastated both the Southeast and my home state of Texas.

Just last week tornadoes wreaked havoc on the Southeast, destroying communities and resulting in over 350 fatalities, the destruction of 10,000 homes, and an estimated $2 to $5 billion in property damage.  In Texas, brave men and women have battled wildfires that that have destroyed over 2 million acres, 900 structures, and resulted in the loss of life of two firefighters.  I continue to strongly urge the Administration to grant the State of Texas’ request for a federal disaster declaration for the Texas counties that have suffered damage from these wildfires. Both of these tragedies underscore the importance of federal investments in disaster preparedness and response.

The World Bank and the United States Geological Survey have estimated that economic losses worldwide from natural disasters in the 1990’s could have been reduced by $280 billion if an additional $40 billion had been spent in preventative measures.  Therefore, it is vitally important that we spend our federal research dollars wisely in order to reduce both loss of life and economic damages resulting from the natural disasters that can have devastating impacts on our Nation.

Many of our past investments have proven that increased research into natural disasters can save lives and reduce property damage.  Today, we will hear testimony from Dr. Clint Dawson of the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.  Dr. Dawson will testify about his experience using “Ranger”, the most powerful computer in the National Science Foundation’s network of academic high performance computers, to develop storm surge models to aid in the evacuation during Hurricane Ike. 

Dr. Dawson’s use of this supercomputer helped save thousands of lives and we need to continue to ensure that our scientists and first responders have access to the best tools possible to help protect both life and property.