ADN: The last earthquake shook Alaska hard. Let’s make sure we’re even better prepared for the next one.

The recent magnitude 7.0 earthquake was a deeply unsettling experience for many Alaskans. Roads collapsed, homes were damaged, and several schools will be shut for extended periods. While we remain grateful that no one was seriously injured or killed, this event – and the now more than 5,000 aftershocks that have followed – are stark reminders of the destructive forces of nature that are present in our state.

A question that many Alaskans have asked is, “What comes next?” We’re no strangers to earthquakes, including the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, but what more can we do to help ensure that lives and property are protected? The federal government has an important role to play in helping us to recover and rebuild. Within hours of the earthquake the president, through the Department of Transportation, released an initial installment of $5 million to help us get the road system back up and running. Alaska has the best road builders in the world and we have put this money to good use, reopening the Glenn Highway in record time. But that is just the first step.

When damage assessments are completed, we expect the Federal Emergency Management Agency will step up with grants from the national Disaster Relief Fund, just as it has for other natural disasters across the country. We are also pursuing long-term, low-interest disaster loans from the Small Business Administration to help Alaska families and businesses with their losses. In all of this, the congressional delegation is coordinating closely with Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

We are also taking steps to help prepare for the next big earthquake, which we know is inevitable. One of our best options here is the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act, which I sponsored with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. It passed the Senate in September, the House of Representatives just two days before our earthquake, and has now been signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Our bill modernizes the federal earthquakes program run by the Department of the Interior, through the U.S. Geological Survey. First enacted in 1977, the NEHRP program has led to significant improvements in earthquake early warning, monitoring, and research. But it had also been nearly a decade since Congress updated the program, and the science surrounding earthquakes has improved dramatically.

In reauthorizing and revamping NEHRP, we’ve fashioned a forward-looking program to help earthquake-prone communities plan ahead, predict how the earth may move and make improvements to infrastructure based on those predictions.

The idea is to take a holistic approach to earthquakes through hazard and risk assessments in order to minimize the damage caused by the initial quake, as well as the aftershocks and other hazards that follow in its wake. The revitalized program will produce new maps that highlight the dynamic threat and potential impacts of earthquakes by showing active faults and folds, liquefaction susceptibility and other induced hazards such as landslides and tsunamis.

Although coordination is already impressive in Alaska, inter-agency coordination is key and can always be improved at all levels of government. That’s why we add new agencies to participate in the program, provide greater authority for agencies to engage with localities, and direct federal and state agencies to work together to ensure that our buildings and other infrastructure meet the specifications needed to withstand a significant earthquake.

Our bill also refocuses efforts on the development of earthquake early warning systems through the Advanced National Seismic System. A grants program will help provide states with the resources needed to incorporate earthquakes into their hazard reduction portfolios. And we emphasize the need to make sure that our infrastructure not only withstands an earthquake, but holds up and remains habitable after the ground stops shaking.

Although Alaskans have set the standard for earthquake response, we need federal disaster assistance. As we work toward that, we can also be confident that an improved federal earthquakes program will equip our state with new and better tools to be even more prepared, safer and resilient the next time around.

We can’t stop earthquakes, but we may ultimately be able to provide more warning and reduce the damages they cause. As we continue to press ahead with recovery and restoration efforts in Anchorage, Eagle River, and the Mat-Su, that’s something we can all look forward to.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator. She serves as chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

By:  U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski
Source: Anchorage Daily News