Commercial Appeal: Alexander says Senate subcommittee will check how agencies reacted during flood

Posted on June 28, 2010

NASHVILLE -- U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced Monday that a Senate subcommittee will hold a public hearing July 22 to examine how the Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service performed during last month's Tennessee flooding.

Alexander, R-Tenn., a member of the subcommittee, said he wants to focus on how the two federal agencies communicated information about the flooding with the public and local government agencies.

Mayors of two of the cities hardest hit by the May flooding -- Millington Mayor Richard Hodges and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean -- are among eight people scheduled to testify before the Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee in Washington, along with officials of the agencies involved.

"My concern is to first try to find out what happened and whether the gathering of information about rising water and flooding water, and the communication of it in Nashville and Clarksville and Ashland city and all the way to Millington, was done as well as it could have been -- and if it wasn't to see if there are changes that we could make that might affect future floods," Alexander said in a conference call.

"Over the last 10 or 12 years, the National Weather Service and the emergency agencies and our broadcasters and news media have improved their reporting of tornadoes a thousand percent. With a tornado today, you can turn on television or go online and learn that a tornado may be coming down your street and the minute it's likely to arrive.

"We may not be able to be that precise about rising water and flooding but if there's a way to improve information about rising water and flooding so that we save lives and damage, then I want to make sure that we have that information," the senator said.

He said he expects the Corps of Engineers specifically to present the results of its "after-action reports," which are not yet complete. Most of the Tennessee congressional delegation's questioning of the corps' actions during the flooding has focused on the Nashville area.

But Alexander also said, "When I was in Millington, I talked with the mayor and I talked with the emergency people in Memphis and everyone seemed to agree that we do a better job with tornadoes than we do with floods."