A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand
FRANKFORT – At first glance, it may seem odd that September is National Preparedness Month, since it usually is one of the quieter periods of the year for natural disasters.
At the same time, that welcome pause between stormy seasons actually makes it perfect to review just how ready we are for Mother Nature at her worst.
Kentucky, of course, is no stranger to these events. Between Feb. 2008 and March 2012, for example, we endured a dozen presidentially declared disasters, including the biggest one in our modern history: the 2009 ice storm that caused two dozen deaths across the state. The Public Service Commission estimated the damage to our utilities alone topped $250 million.
Monetarily, our biggest disaster was arguably the 1937 flood, which put much of Paducah, Louisville and many other Ohio River communities under water and caused more than $4 billion in losses when adjusted for inflation.
As large as the numbers above are, they pale against what we would undoubtedly see if the New Madrid fault line caused earthquakes like those that struck just west of Kentucky in 1811-12.
They rang church bells in Boston, caused the Mississippi River to run backward and were the reason Congress authorized the nation’s first federal aid package to help those affected get back on their feet.
It’s worth noting that the worst earthquake with an epicenter in Kentucky is not particularly close to the New Madrid fault line. That tremor occurred in 1980 in Bath County, and for comparison, it was about 200 times smaller than those that happened in the early 1800s. Even so, it did cause some damage; in Maysville, for example, the figure exceeded $1 million.
The state’s latest hazard mitigation plan gives us more insight into other problems that plague Kentucky. Consider that only four states are more affected by sinkholes, which played a major role early this year when one opened up beneath a large section of Bowling Green’s National Corvette Museum. Our karst topography is the reason Mammoth Cave is the world’s longest by far and why we have nearly a fifth of the biggest cave systems in the United States.
Wildfires are another major problem we face, largely because we unfortunately have the South’s highest arson rate. Overall, Kentucky averages 1,500 wildfires a year, and they burn about 38,000 acres annually. During the past decade, they have also destroyed about 270 homes and other structures valued at $4.1 million, and in the last five or so years, they caused at least five deaths.
Given the range of disasters we face, it should come as no surprise that our first responders are constantly training and coordinating with other agencies. That includes determining what should be done in such scenarios as a major earthquake, an act of terrorism, a school shooting or a major outbreak of disease. In May, pharmacists and others trained with a mobile pharmacy to make sure that medicine would be available anywhere statewide if necessary.
Our universities are doing their part as well. Last week, we broke ground on Murray State University’s updated Breathitt Veterinary Center, which has long played a frontline role in catching potential problems with our livestock.
Eastern Kentucky University, meanwhile, began offering a Homeland Security bachelor’s degree in 2007, and the University of Louisville has the Center for Predictive Medicine, home to one of 13 labs across the country being used to better protect against biological attacks.
In Frankfort, Governor Beshear created the Council for Community Recovery and Resiliency this past July. It’s designed to help communities prepare for and respond to natural disasters, and has representatives from a wide array of state and local government agencies.
During this year’s legislative session, the General Assembly strengthened protections for licensed engineers and architects who voluntarily provide expertise at the scene of a declared disaster. This legislation will better ensure they are not liable for providing help, as long as it has been requested by officials and the professionals act in good faith.
Two other new laws will help Kentuckians with another type of disaster: cyberterrorism. In this case, these laws lay out what steps must be taken if local or state government or a private company has personal information such as credit card numbers stolen or otherwise made public.
If you are aware of a crime or any issue affecting homeland security, and it’s not an emergency, the state maintains a toll-free tip line to report suspicious activity. That number is 1-866-EYE-ON-KY (1-866-393-6659).
If you have any or comments or questions about this issue or any other affecting the state, please let me know. You can write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.