The severe weather which has impacted Oklahoma has in many ways shown the problems we still face. While the best systems and models are in place with the National Weather Center located in Norman, Oklahomans must still remain vigilant and weather aware. We will also see growing needs for road repairs following the flooding.
Two years ago, my final piece of legislation to become law was a bill which established a new weather alert program for Oklahomans. When I checked on the status of this last week, the Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management felt the implementation would be soon.
This legislation, authored by myself and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, created a mobile phone application to be administered by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), with oversight and data provided by the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). The application would allow individuals to receive information about potential disasters and also report information following an event to help the state receive the proper data for filing reports. We have seen how important this will be with the weather we experienced in April and May and the proper submissions for adequate assistance.
The legislation also put strict penalties in place for price gouging during a disaster. Too many times we see con men or crooked businesses raise the prices of items in an area where a disaster has occurred. These provisions will protect those Oklahomans who are impacted in a declared disaster area from being taken advantage of in a time of need.
One issue I would have liked to see implemented is a direct debit from the Rainy Day Fund for the cost of disaster recovery. Too often, disasters occur when the Legislature is not in session and it would take a call for a special session to convene the senators and representatives to allocate funds. My proposal would simply debit the 12.5% match required by the state for federal assistance. This money is audited, so there would be no chance for a misappropriation and it would have save thousands of dollars needed to convene a special session, as well as critical time. The funds would also come from the portion of the Rainy Day Fund that the Legislature is not allowed to use to balance the budget, as we saw occur this year with the $611 million shortfall.
As citizens, we must do our part to be prepared, which includes maintaining the proper insurance. Neither the state nor federal governments will reimburse for costs that should be covered by private insurance. These were demands following Hurricane Katrina for accountability and that is now the law. Households need to have plans in place on how to handle an evacuation or where to take shelter safely. When there is no plan, accidents occur and sometimes the worst can happen.
I want to share in the condolences to those who have been affected by these storms, including the families of the many people who lost their lives. I especially want to thank the men and women in emergency management who help protect our lives. It is sad to lose someone in the line of duty as happened in the Claremore Fire Department with Capt. Jason Farley. He sacrificed his life to save a family trapped by flooding. This is why we owe a great debt to all those who risk their lives for others. We should treat them with the dignity and respect deserved for their service.