Murkowski, Feinstein Introduce Bill to Strengthen National Earthquake Resilience Program

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., today introduced the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act, a bill to reauthorize a national program to improve the nation’s earthquake preparedness. The legislation modernizes earthquake-safety programs that help states like Alaska and California prepare for and respond to earthquakes.

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.

“Thousands of earthquakes occur in Alaska every year, and our 1964 Good Friday earthquake remains the strongest ever recorded in North America,” Murkowski said. “Living in such a seismically active area, we know the dangers we face and the damage and devastation that earthquakes can cause. Our reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program will help reduce those risks, increase preparedness and protect lives by making advanced technologies available in Alaska and around the country.”

“When it comes to a catastrophic earthquake, it’s not a matter of if it will occur, it’s a matter of when,” Feinstein said. “I believe it’s important that we recognize this threat and do all we can to plan for the worst. By reauthorizing the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, we will ensure that vital research, assistance to states, and development of early-warning systems continue.”

“Earthquakes pose a catastrophic threat to communities in Oregon and other West Coast states,” Wyden said. “Congress must reauthorize this program to step up disaster preparedness and help people prepare for the worst.”

“The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program is a landmark piece of legislation that has helped reduce earthquake risk and enhance earthquake preparedness in many parts of the country,” said Steve Masterman, president of the Association of American State Geologists. “This revised version of the original legislation will build on those successes and continue to decrease risks from earthquakes for years to come.”

“The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program helps to reduce risks to life and property from future earthquakes, recognizing that earthquake-related losses can be lessened through a coordinated effort,” said Peter Shearer, president of the Seismological Society of America. “Reauthorization of NEHRP is vital to continued contribution toward the goal reducing the impact of earthquakes on our communities.”

“A catastrophic earthquake would be the most devastating natural disaster event California and the nation would experience in terms of physical and economic damage, as well as significant loss of life,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. “We welcome efforts to continue and strengthen the planning, response and recovery process.”

“I am excited to see that the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program is being reauthorized,” said Mike West, state seismologist for the State of Alaska. “The beauty of NEHRP is that it coordinates the Nation's many existing earthquake efforts. In most states, including Alaska, we entrust our earthquake safety to a small number of emergency managers, scientists, engineers, and policymakers. NEHRP is the glue that bonds these efforts together.”           

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act would enable earthquake-prone communities to better prepare and protect themselves by minimizing losses through infrastructure improvements and hazard and risk assessments. The program, first authorized in 1977, has led to significant improvements in earthquake research and infrastructure preparedness. The most recent reauthorization expired in 2009.

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Permanently reauthorizes the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP).
  • Removes outdated language related to earthquake prediction and instead emphasizes the continued development of earthquake early warning systems through the Advanced National Seismic System.
  • Requires the production of a set of maps showing active faults and folds, liquefaction susceptibility and other hazards that can be induced by an earthquake, such as landslides.
  • Reduces various administrative burdens for federal agencies that are disruptive to the essential mission of the program and improves data sharing between agencies.
  • Enhances coordination among federal agencies, and with state agencies.
  • Provides clear direction to the four federal agencies charged with overseeing NEHRP – the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation – to continue working with states and private sector experts on performance-based design features.
  • Directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement a grant program to assist states with incorporating earthquakes in their hazard reduction portfolios. 
  • Directs the completion of a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s earthquake risk reduction progress, as well as remaining areas that require more funding.

The bill is supported by the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Association of American State Geologists, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Geological Society of America, the National Council of Structural Engineers Associations, the National Emergency Management Association, and the Seismological Society of America.