Salazar Creates Science Group to Bolster Preparedness for Potential Future Environmental Crises

Last edited 09/05/2019

WASHINGTON—Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the creation of a specialized scientific group that will develop future scenarios and provide rapid, interdisciplinary scientific assessments during environmental crises or disasters affecting America's natural resources. The group will help ensure that preparedness, response and recovery efforts undertaken by the Department and its bureaus will be guided by the best available science and lessons learned from past events, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and Hurricane Katrina.

“Using the important lessons we've learned in preparing for and responding to past disasters, this group of expert, interdisciplinary scientists will play a major role in advising Department-wide preparedness activities and grounding them in the best available science,” said Secretary Salazar. “Their efforts will help us to act quickly, decisively and effectively when hurricanes, droughts, oil spills, wildfires or other crises strike.”

Today's announcement comes as part of a Secretarial Order signed by Secretary Salazar, effective immediately, authorizing the Strategic Sciences Group to:

  • Develop and provide the Department of the Interior with science-based assessments and interdisciplinary scenarios of environmental crises affecting Departmental resources;
  • Rapidly assemble teams of scientists to conduct such work during environmental crises; and
  • Provide the results of this work to the Secretary and Departmental leadership to support decision-making during crises.

Using assessments and scenarios developed during non-crises times, the group will prepare specific scenarios during a crisis event that describe possible environmental, economic and social outcomes of the crisis, which will aid in planning for potential disaster response and recovery activities.

The Secretary has selected Dr. Gary Machlis, Science Advisor to the NPS Director, and Dr. David Applegate, USGS Associate Director for Natural Hazards, as co-leaders of the Strategic Sciences Group. Dr. Machlis led the experimental Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Working Group during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Dr. Applegate is responsible for coordinating USGS hazards planning and response activities. The group's first order of business will be to prepare an operational plan describing its organization, procedures, and high-priority crisis scenarios.

“Experience shows us that these science-based scenarios and assessments are key to an effective, strategic response to all kinds of disasters immediately after they occur, and contribute greatly to mid-term recovery and long-term restoration,” the Secretary noted.

During an environmental crisis affecting Departmental resources, the Secretary may direct the Strategic Sciences Group to activate a Crisis Science Team or Teams, including scientists from government, academic institutions, non-government organizations, and the private sector as appropriate. The Secretary may also direct the group to assist other federal, state, local, or tribal agencies, as well as international assistance as necessary, subject to applicable authorities and availability of appropriations.


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