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Update on National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program Reauthorization (11-1-00)

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) was created by law in 1977 as a long-term, nationwide, earthquake risk reduction program. Member agencies in the NEHRP are the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSG), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). The main focus of these agencies under NEHRP has been research and development in areas such as the science of earthquakes, earthquake performance of buildings and other structures, societal impacts, and emergency response and recovery. Congress reauthorizes NEHRP every two years, and funds the program every year via the annual appropriations process. The current authorization for NEHRP expired October 1, 1999, and Congress is now in the process of reauthorization. Two of AGI's member societies, the Seismological Society of America and American Geophysical Union have sent alerts to their membership urging them to comment on NEHRP.

Most Recent Action
Legislation to reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) appears to be on its way to the White House for the president's signature. The final step took place on Halloween, when the Senate agreed to technical corrections by the House to correct drafting errors by the Senate in S. 1639 and H.R. 1550. The Senate had passed both bills by unanimous consent on October 18th.

An amended version of S. 1639, The Earth, Wind, and Fire Authorization Act of 2000, passed the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on April 13th.  The bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) in September, is composed of three sections:

The earthquake hazards section of the bill appropriates funds through FY 2002 for: As amended, S. 1639 authorizes $185 million through FY 2005 for an Advanced National Seismic Research and Monitoring System, which is also included in the House counterpart bill, H.R. 1184. The bill also establishes the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation named for the former Science Committee chairman who passed away last year.

Previous Action in the 106th Congress
On April 21, the House passed H.R. 1184, the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Authorization Act of 1999, which authorizes a total of $469.6 million for earthquake readiness programs, by a 414-3 margin. House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) stated, "Earthquakes may be inevitable, but catastrophic losses in life and property can be avoided if we use science and technology to help communities prepare. This legislation represents a sensible, long-term investment that will pay for itself many times over in saved lives and reduced property losses."

The bill had passed the House Science Committee on March 25, after the a February hearing on the bill (see the AGI website for a summary of the hearing). In addition to a two-year authorization for earthquake programs at the four participating agencies -- USGS, NSF, FEMA, and NIST -- the bill also includes five-year authorizations for two new projects: The Advanced Seismic Research and Monitoring System and the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). For the advanced seismic system, the bill would authorize approximately $33.5 million in each of the next five years for the US Geological Survey to expand and modernize seismic and strong motion instrumentation as well as additional funds for operation of the network. The last NEHRP authorization asked the USGS to study development of such a network, and the report of that study is expected to be released by the Department of the Interior in the near future. The Seismological Society of America has been a vocal supporter of the advanced seismic network and is encouraging its members to contact their senators and representatives on this issue.

The Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space held a hearing on June 29, 1999 to discuss public safety issues in science and technology. The hearing served as part of the reauthorization process for three different programs -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fire Administration, and the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and National Institute of Standards and Technology testified in support of NEHRP.  More hearings are expected during the second session of the 106th Congress.

October of 1999 saw a flurry of interest in earthquakes on Capitol Hill.  On October 20, the House Science Subcommittee on Basic Research held a hearing on the lessons learned from the recent earthquakes in Taiwan, Turkey, and Mexico. Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) asked the questions: What can and have we learned from studying these recent quakes? How do we disseminate information to the public? and How can we use technology to help in our search and rescue after these events occur?  Witnesses from the USGS, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Seismological Society of America, and the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Service discussed these questions.  A full summary of the hearing is available on the AGI hearing website.  In addition to the hearing, a Hill briefing cosponsored by the USGS, Association of American State Geologists, the Pacific Gas & Electric, and AGI addressed how communities are using information to help reduce lose of life and property from seismic events.  A December 1999 Geotimes News Note summarizes a few recent non-congressional events.

Background
The AGI website contains several past articles and updates on NEHRP.  The update from the 105th Congress in particular has a very thorough background (http://www.agiweb.org/legis105/nehrpup.html). Also see GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti's article, Current Status of Earthquake Hazard Reduction Legislation, reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist (http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/tpgnehrp.html).

Sources: Hearing Testimony, the Library of Congress website Thomas, Environmental and Energy Study Institute,


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Scott Broadwell and Kasey Shewey White, Margaret Baker, and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs, and AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Alison Alcott

Posted July 16, 1999; Last updated November 1, 2000


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