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Subcommittee Reviews Status of U.S. Earthquake Preparedness

Apr 7, 2011
Press Release

Washington D.C. – Today, the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to examine earthquake risk in the United States and to review efforts supporting the development of earthquake hazard reduction measures, and the creation of disaster-resilient communities.

“In light of the devastating effects of the recent earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck off the coast of northern Japan on March 11, many countries are examining their own level of preparedness,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-AZ).  “It is always a challenge to measure how prepared we are for the next unexpected event, and whether current efforts are adequate.”

Quayle continued, “The impacts and consequences of a major earthquake are felt on a global scale. These hazards consequently represent a serious threat to both national security and global commerce. Given our current economic situation, it would be even more painful for the United States to endure a disastrous earthquake, the socioeconomic effects of which would reverberate for decades.”

Portions of all 50 states are vulnerable to earthquake hazards, although risks vary across the country and within individual states. Twenty-six urban areas in fourteen U.S. states face significant seismic risk. Though infrequent, earthquakes are unique among natural hazards in that they strike without warning.

In 1977 Congress passed the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act (NEHRP) as a long-term earthquake risk reduction program for the United States. Currently under NEHRP, four federal agencies have responsibility for long-term earthquake risk reduction: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).  The House passed reauthorization legislation in the last Congress with bipartisan support, however, the legislation was not considered by the Senate.

Director of NEHRP, Dr. John Hayes, testified today that while we are making progress, there are still things we can do to be better prepared for high magnitude earthquakes.  “[W]e still have much to learn about the earthquake hazards we face and the engineering measures needed to minimize the risks from those hazards,” Hayes said.  “Assuming that we already know everything we need to know is the surest strategy for catastrophe… Our challenge is to see that the new knowledge and experience gained through NEHRP continues to be developed and applied to domestic practices and policies that foster a more resilient American society.”

The following witnesses testified today before the Committee:

Dr. Jack Hayes, Director, National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), National Institute of Standards and Technology

Mr. Jim Mullen, Director, Washington State Emergency Management Division; President, National Emergency Management Association

Mr. Chris Poland, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Degenkolb Engineers; Chairman, NEHRP Advisory Committee

Dr. Vicki McConnell, Oregon State Geologist and Director, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries

112th Congress