Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Flash Floods Kill Twelve in Utah

Flash floods occurred all over Utah's border with Arizona on Tuesday killing up to twelve people.  A "large wall of water and debris" triggered by heavy rain pounded nearby canyons and swept people away in their cars (Reuters).  This was not the only "deadly incident attributable to the fast-moving water. In Zion National Park's Keyhole Canyon, four people who were canyoneering were killed and three are missing, National Park Service officials said" (CNN).  Utah Lieutenerary Governor Spencer Cox commented on how this is simply "another tragedy for our state. Reeling right now" Twitter.  In Hildale, a small city in Utah, hundreds of volunteers are helping to search for one person still missing, Washington County officials said, after floodwaters swept through streets.  "It was an act from God," Hildale Mayor Phillip Barlow told reporters of Monday's tragedy.  "This is something we can't control. ... It happened too fast." (Deseret News)
“Most people, they entertain themselves with their children by just driving around,” Mrs. Jessop said. “We come up to the canyons a lot; we get water. It’s just a fun place to come. They must have just gotten caught in it” (The New York Times).  The vehicles were found a quarter-mile away, and some of the bodies were not found until Tuesday because they were carried far downstream into Arizona (one was five miles away).
Crews have worked ever since Monday evening monitoring floods and searching the banks of Short Creek due to spontaneous rain showers.  Fortunately, contractors have worked to clear most of the mud and debris, and the National Guard has been called in to help with the cleanup.  “In the flash flooding two occupied vehicles were hit by a large wall of water and debris at the Canyon Street Maxwell Crossing and were carried into the flood,” Washington County Emergency Services said in a statement on Facebook. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said he was "heartbroken," and that the state has offered its full resources to Hildale to aid the search and rescue effort (Reuters).  In disregard to the floods, three people died and four were missing once going to explore canyons at Zion National Park, less than twenty miles north of Hildale, before Monday's heavy rains.  

My question to you is should the federal government step in and assist the state of Utah with help in the form of aid?  Would this create more tension?  Should the federal government get involved at all?  When a sudden emergency such as this one takes place, what steps should be taken to address the people at large (how can we avoid skewed data in the number of deaths)?  In addition, if the Zion National Park Canyon was monitored better, could flash floods have been completely avoided?  This then leads to another pressing issue: where should our tax dollars be going and lastly, who should be the ones to decide this matter (the state legislatures or the counties and local governments)?  



Daniel Jun said...

When you asked "would this create more tension," you suggest that there is already tension in Utah residents. Are they upset that the federal government has yet to send any aid?

If the federal government is supposed to act whenever something bad happens to Americans, then efficiency will drop faster than a lightning bolt. That being said, this does not mean the federal government is to do nothing when things like this happen. A natural disaster has deleteriously affected a state, resulting in death and property damage. To do nothing would mean losing American confidence in the federal government, which anyone with two brain-cells to rub together would know is a mistake.

In addition, what is wrong with the method with which death counts are taken? Are there massive disparities between searches conducted by the federal government and other organizations?

What we really need (or I suppose those people need) are more informational PSAs (public service announcements) and regular panic drills. People in cars tend to ignore how extremely dangerous flash floods are, resulting in unnecessary death. Forewarned may be forearmed, but knowing what to do in a crisis is better than wading into a flash flood completely blind. The federal government (or the state government, whichever) needs to make sure people know what to do! That's more important than giving out warnings "watch out for flash floods. But if you're caught in one we haven't given you the necessary information on how to deal with it."

Jess Westy said...

The national government could lend a hand by sending more people, but how much would that really gain Utah? A few more people to help clean up? The state of Utah I would assume has the resources to deal with a problem of this capacity. For clean up Utah should need no assistance however for prevention the national government should step in. This is a NATIONAL park so the federal government should be responsible in making sure there is no accident similar to this in the future. The national government should come in and maybe build a retaining wall or have flash flood specialists who know when the parks should be evacuated. However when it comes down to if the whole disaster could have really been prevented it is hard to know. Flash floods are different than something like a forest fire where a crew of firemen can be on call in an at risk area. Flash floods come because of rain and it is difficult to know how big a storm will be or in what areas it will hit hardest.

As for who should receive the tax dollars it should probably be the state legislatures considering they will be doing most of the cleanup. However, if FEMA decides to step in, due to this being in a national park, the federal government should probably receive some of the tax dollars.

Kristina Chiu said...

I feel that federal government assistance of aid would be unnecessary as Utah would presumably have the budget and sufficient resources to resolve this event. I agree with Daniel in regards to the decrease in efficiency if the federal government were to quickly act in response to any negative issue or event that occurs. However, I do feel that the federal government has an obligation to assist a state when that state lacks the money, materials, and resources to help themselves (example: Hurricane Katrina). I also believe that the national government does have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public at national parks and should ultimately prevent the exacerbation of the current situation.
This relates to our studies on federalism and Hurricane Katrina. It specifically connects to whether states or the federal government should have control over the issue. To what extent should the federal government help the state government? At what point should the national government deem a disaster necessary to provide aid and intervene in a disastrous event in a state? If federal governments should have to deem whether an event is disastrous enough, would it be too late to resolve the issue?

Scott Chow said...

To begin, I'd like to provide a little background on just how hard flash floods are to predict. http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/education/svrwx101/floods/forecasting/

Note that there are 11 criteria for evaluating and predicting a flash flood. And none of them are yes / no answers; at the end of the day, trying to predict exactly when a flash flood will occur is incredibly difficult.

I do agree with Daniel on the need for learning what to do if you are caught up in the flood, but in response to your questions regarding the death tolls, I believe Juliana was referring to the inaccurate body counts that come from hasty reporting done by the media at large.

Back to the government side of this.

I'll beat the dead horse one more time; federal assistance needs to be used carefully. While it is smart in terms of PR and morals, federal assistance can't be for every and any disaster, and I don't think this flash flood qualifies in my eyes; 12 deaths, while tragic, is a blip compared to things like Hurricane Katrina, the San Francisco Earthquake, and the Eruption of Yosemite that will soon be upon us. Like Kristina and Jess have noted, it is more than likely that Utah's state government has adequate resources for dealing with a disaster on this scale.

THAT BEING SAID, Kristina brought up an interesting point in that the national parks are technically owned by the federal government. This does give some of the responsibility to the federal government, but to what degree? Is the federal government really THAT responsible for what happens in their national parks, or does that fall more under the state's responsibilities? It seems to me that yes, in fact, they do; they do have a department in the US Department of Interior called the National Park Service.

Nicholas Tong1 said...

The Property Clause of the Constitution states that Congress may "dispose of and make regulations needful respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States." Unless I am mistaken, Congress has not put forth such a "needful" law that obliges Utah to help out with disasters in federal lands. Furthermore, according to the NPS website ( http://www.nps.gov/aboutus/index.htm ), the responsibility of maintaining national parks is the NPS'. Basically, by law, there should be no debate that the federal government should at least tend to the Zion Park grounds and compensate for the deaths that occurred there.

As for other affected areas in Utah, I agree with Scott that this disaster is not nearly as tragic as something like Hurricane Katrina, and as such, I believe that the federal government should not step in unless reparations are taking an enormous toll on Utah's budget.

At the end of the day, this disaster, no matter how small or large, should serve as a reminder that there should be some standing protocol enacted by both states and federal government regarding disasters, because as you can see, we aren't even sure whose responsibility is whose. Despite the fact that ten years have already passed since Hurricane Katrina, we still not have learned this lesson about establishing efficient, life-saving protocols.