Most Recent Action   Previous Activities   Background 

Update on Earthquake Policy (9-12-01)

Natural hazards such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, and fires occur everywhere, and the losses associated with these events cross state lines without discretion. Similarly, activities related to the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters are divided among many committees in Congress. As a result, funding for research of phenomena and loss mitigation projects comes from many federal programs. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is the most significant federal earthquake program, in that it supports activities in the US Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). With so many players it can be difficult to coordinate efforts in order to give the most benefits to victims of natural disasters. The Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus, co-chaired by Senators John Edwards (D-NC) and Ted Stevens (R-AK), was created to help address the cross-cutting nature of natural hazards.

Most Recent Action
Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the the Earthquake Loss Reduction Act of 2001 (S.424) at the beginning of March 2001 in response to the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake that hit the Seattle area in late February.  Two house-companion bills (H.R. 2762 and H.R. 1669) have been introduced under the same name by Representatives Darlene Hooley (D-OR) and Mike Thompson (D-CA).  According to Feinstein's press release, the legislation aims to "provide a number of incentives, including grants and tax credits, in order to encourage responsible state and local governments, individuals, and businesses to invest in damage prevention measurers before an earthquake strikes."  The bill uses tax credits and bond measures to encourage the private sector to invest in seismic retrofitting. It also establishes a grant fund for local governments, hospitals, and schools to make building improvements and develop earthquake recovery plans. (9/12/01)

On March 21, 2001, the House Science Subcommittee on Research held a hearing to discuss the Nisqually Earthquake that struck the Seattle area. Subcommittee Chair Nick Smith (R-MI) called the hearing for several purposes: to analyze the earthquake assessments performed by or with funding from various federal agencies, assess the behavior of buildings and land in response to the quake, examine how to improve building codes and earthquake preparations in the Pacific Northwest, and to get ideas where to focus future research efforts. Testimony was heard from Dr. John Filson of the USGS, Dr. Priscilla Nelson from NSF, Dr. Stephen Palmer of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and Dr. M. Meghan Miller of Central Washington University. A full hearing summary is available on the AGI website.

Previous Activity
The NEHRP program was reauthorized for FY2001 and FY2003 under H.R.1550, signed into law on November 13, 2000. The bill authorizes FEMA's National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, USGS's Global Seismic Network, NSF's engineering and geosciences research programs, and unspecified NIST programs. The bill also authorizes funds for the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) through FY2006.

The Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus held a briefing on January 22, 2001. Senate briefings serve as a forum to enlighten the caucus members, their staff, as well as the media about developments of the work group and recent events in the topic at hand. At the caucus briefing, USGS Associate Director for Geology P. Patrick Leahy spoke about the earthquake in El Salvador on January 13 that resulted in the deaths of more than 600 people and destruction of over 21,000 homes. Dr. William Hooke, Senior Policy Fellow at the American Meteorological Society, reviewed the caucus work group discussion paper, that addresses some of the challenges associated with natural disasters and gives policy recommendations for loss mitigation. (4/2/01)

On February 28, 2001, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the Seattle area. Although damages from the Nisqually Earthquake were limited compared to those seen in other recent earthquakes around the world, the event served as a reminder of the potential for destructive seismic activity in the Pacific Northwest. On this same day President Bush released his budget outline "A Blueprint for New Beginnings: A Responsible Budget for America's Priorities," which called for the elimination of the FEMA Project Impact Program that conducts earthquake research and damage mitigation activities in the west. (4/2/01)

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 (NSF), 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 AGI website contains several past articles and updates on NEHRP.  The update from the 105th Congress has a thorough history of the NEHRP legislation. Also see GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti's article, Current Status of Earthquake Hazard Reduction Legislation, reprinted with permission from The Professional Geologist.

Natural disasters including earthquakes cause damage that impacts communities across the country. NEHRP is an example of a federal program that through broad based participation attempts to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Senators John Edwards (D-NC) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) have established the Congressional Natural Hazards Caucus to show their commitment to reducing the losses from all kinds of natural disasters.  AGI along with its member societies the American Geophysical Union, the Association of American State Geologists, Geological Society of America, and the Seismological Society of America are involved with the Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group, which organizes events for the caucus members and staff and also prepares informational documents on issues related to natural hazards. Please see the Natural Hazards Caucus Work Group webpage for more information.

Sources: Hearing Testimony, the Library of Congress website Thomas, Senator Dianne Feinstein's website, and Representative Mike Thompson's website.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by AGI/AAPG Geoscience Policy Intern Mary H. Patterson and Margaret Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program

Posted April 2, 2001; Last Updated September 12, 2001

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