Senate Passes Bill to Strengthen National Earthquake Resilience Program

Last week, the Senate passed S. 1768, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act, a bipartisan bill to improve the nation’s earthquake preparedness. The legislation, introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 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., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

“Alaska is the most seismically active state in the nation, so I am proud of the work that we’ve done to move this bill one step closer to becoming law,” Murkowski said. “The passage of S. 1768 will ensure that communities in Alaska and across the country have the most advanced tools to better prepare for and protect lives from significant earthquakes. I am hopeful that the House of Representatives will quickly consider and pass this legislation.”

“Earthquake-prone states understand the time to prepare for the next disaster is now,” Feinstein said. “I’m pleased the Senate voted unanimously to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program to continue vital research and the development of early-warning systems. This life-saving program helps states prepare so they can quickly respond when the next big earthquake inevitably hits.”

“Scientists warn that it is a question of when, not if, Oregon will be struck by a large earthquake,” Wyden said. “The best thing to do now is to be prepared with a coordinated plan to minimize the potential devastation to people and property. This bill helps on all fronts and I’m glad to join my West Coast colleagues in this forward-thinking work.”

“This legislation will strengthen the long-standing federal-state-university partnerships that underpin the nation's earthquake monitoring, and are the framework on which earthquake early warning is being developed and expanded,” Mike West, state seismologist for the State of Alaska, said.

“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,” Peter Shearer, president of the Seismological Society of America, said. “Reauthorization of NEHRP is vital to continued contribution toward the goal reducing the impact of earthquakes on our communities. We are pleased to see the Senate take action on passing this important legislation.”

“The highest impact and most consequential natural disaster we face is a catastrophic earthquake as it would have major impacts beyond California given the physical and economic damage it would ensue,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services, said. “Continuous improvement in strengthening our State & nation’s ability to plan for, respond to and recover from catastrophic earthquakes is essential.”

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:

  • 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; and
  • 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.

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