On June 5, the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing on the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Digital Coast program. Appearing on behalf of NACo, Mr. Paul Barnes, Geographic Information Services Director for Harrison County, Miss., discussed the importance of the Digital Coast program for county governments in preparing and responding to natural disasters. Additionally, Racine County, Wis. Register of Deeds Tyson Fettes spoke on the panel, also expressing support for Digital Coast.
Digital Coast is an online resource that houses data, tools, and training to help coastal counties protect county-owned infrastructure and their residents and businesses against hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, tsunamis and other disasters. Using Digital Coast, local governments identify and address risks through online resources.
In his testimony, Mr. Barnes informed members of the subcommittee of the crucial role Digital Coast plays for county governments, stating, “Having gone through Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I am well aware of the challenges that local communities face to prepare, respond and recover from disaster. That is why my county, and others like mine are using Digital Coast to strengthen resiliency at the local level.”
Barnes’ testimony highlighted several examples of the effectiveness of the program, including Harrison County’s efforts to use Digital Coast to predict storm surges and flooding predictions in advance of a hurricane or storm event. He explained, “Because of Digital Coast, we can more easily determine whether our residents should shelter in place, evacuate in zones or undertake a full-scale evacuation.”
Additionally, he discussed the cost savings of the program, saying, “Data collection can be very time-consuming, expensive and located across numerous federal, state and local agencies…if we tried to collect the data ourselves, it would easily cost our county tax-payers tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
In concluding his remarks, Barnes stressed that Digital Coast offers a resource that cannot be found easily elsewhere. He encouraged Congress to enact legislation to codify NOAA’s Digital Coast program into law.
In 2017, the Senate passed The Digital Coast Act (S. 110) by unanimous consent. A companion bill is awaiting action in the House (H.R. 4062). NACo has urged Congress to support the Digital Coast Initiative and will continue to work with Congress and NOAA to further strengthen the program.