WASHINGTON, OCTOBER 22, 2010 AT 11:00 AM EDT - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the release of a recreation visitor safety report by the USDA Forest Service on the circumstances surrounding the 500-year flash flood that took the lives of 20 people during the night this past June at a campground in Arkansas. Although this was an extremely rare event, the Forest Service has done a thorough review and is taking steps to reduce the chances of such a tragedy in the future.
"Our hearts go out to the family and friends of people lost in this tragic event. In the hours after the floodwaters receded, I committed to getting to the bottom of what happened the night of June 11, not only so that we have all the facts about that night, but also to ensure that treasured locations like this one remain available to the public and that they can be enjoyed safely," said Vilsack. "This report provides valuable information about how we can achieve these goals and prevent similar tragedies in the future, and we will be aggressively moving forward with improved visitor safety actions across the country in the weeks and months ahead."
Vilsack called for the report following a tour he took of the devastated area with Arkansas officials and Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell only hours after the floodwaters had receded. The visitor safety report commits the Forest Service to increase its accountability, oversight, and monitoring of public safety issues nationwide. The agency will develop an action plan responsive to the safety report by November 30, 2010.
Based on the Forest Service safety report, the following national actions are being taken:
- The agency will implement a comprehensive safety communication strategy to ensure visitors have information needed to make decisions about their recreation activities.
- Individual facilities will improve their emergency response and evacuation plans, including training exercises and post-incident actions.
- Training on visitor safety for employees and volunteers will be expanded.
"The best way to honor the victims is to redouble our efforts to provide the safest facilities possible in Arkansas and across the country," said Tom Tidwell, Chief of the Forest Service. "Because of this tragedy, we initiated actions nationally to improve communication of safety messages to visitors, to increase training our own employees regarding visitor safety, and to evaluate early warning systems and their applicability in the agency."
The full report can be found at: Recreation-Safety-Report-10-18-10.pdf
The Forest Service report builds upon and responds to information contained in another report done by a USDA review team that looked at the events at Albert Pike campground on June 11th.
A severe storm that struck the evening of June 11. The Little Missouri River Rose from a pre-storm level of just less than four feet deep to an estimated depth of over 23 feet, and sent a wall of water through the campground at 3 a.m. while campers were asleep. Cell phone coverage in the Albert Pike Campground, a favorite vacation destination for generations of Arkansans, was spotty at best.
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to State and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.