It is likely that one or more severely damaging earthquakes will strike the United States within the next decade. As the 1994 Northridge earthquake showed, the cost of earthquake damage to buildings and infrastructure is unacceptably high. The 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake provided a stark reminder that earthquakes can be killers, even in countries that have undertaken substantial earthquake mitigation. But while earthquakes are inevitable natural hazards, they need not be inevitable disasters. Our nation can reduce the losses of life, casualties, property losses, and social and economic disruptions from future earthquakes through prudent actions.
Congress recognized this in 1977 with the passage of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act which established the interagency National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). NEHRP has been successful in conducting research to increase knowledge about earthquake hazards and on engineering techniques to reduce earthquake loss. However, risk reduction actions based on research results, such as the adoption of earthquake resistant building codes by state and local governments, have not kept pace with expectations.
The new National Earthquake loss reduction Program (NEP) is designed to strengthen and extend NEHRP*. The NEP aims to focus scarce research and development dollars on the most effective means for saving lives and property and limiting the social disruptions from earthquakes, coordinate federal earthquake mitigation research and development and emergency planning in a number of additional agencies beyond those in NEHRP to avoid duplication and ensure focus on priority goals, and cooperate with the private sector and with state and local jurisdictions to apply effective mitigation strategies and measures. Its goals are:
Provide leadership and coordination for federal earthquake research;
Improve knowledge of earthquake processes and effects;
Continue to expand technology transfer and outreach;
Improve engineering of the built environment;
Improve data for construction standards and codes;
Continue the development of seismic hazards and risk assessment tools;
Analyze seismic hazard mitigation incentives;
Develop understanding of societal impacts and responses related to earthquake hazard mitigation;
Analyze the medical and public health consequences of earthquakes; and
Continue documentation of earthquakes and their effects.
Leadership and coordination of the NEP will be conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Coordination through FEMA will ensure both increased attention to transfer of research results to the user community and that the research remains focused on goals that can aid mitigation and save lives and property. The NEP is budget neutral. No redirection of budgetary authority between Federal agencies is implied or intended. The non-Federal implementation of earthquake loss mitigation practices is not a direct fiscal responsibility of the NEP. However, because most mitigation decisions are made at the state or local levels of government, or in the private sector, the ultimate success of the NEP largely depends on its effectiveness in stimulating the actions of these groups to mitigate earthquake risks.
*The program was designed under the direction of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) by the National Earthquake Strategy Working Group (NESW) which included representatives of over twenty federal agencies that have a program interest in earthquake loss reduction. Recognizing that implementation of earthquake loss mitigation occurs primarily at the state and local level, the NESW held a national forum with engineers, scientists, architects, building officials, social scientists, and emergency managers from state and local government, academia, and the private sector to gain their views, concerns, and recommendations which are reflected in this report.