National Earthquake Hazards Reductions Program (5-10-06)

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Natural disasters, including earthquakes, cause damage that impacts communities across the country. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) is an example of a federal program that through broad based participation attempts to mitigate the effects of earthquakes. Member agencies in 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 agencies focus on 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. NEHRP was reauthorized in October of 2004 for five years. Lawmakers must now grapple with the challenge of funding the program through four different appropriations bills: Interior, VA/HUD, Homeland Security, and Commerce.

Recent Action

1906 San Francisco Earthquake Conference and Commemoration Held
The Centennial Meeting of the Seismological Society of America, the 8th National Conference on Earthquake Engineering by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Disaster Resistant California and the Association of Bay Area Governments' General Assembly (ABAG) met in a joint conference in San Francisco on the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The theme of the joint conference was mitigating disaster in earthquake country. Over 3,000 geoscientists, engineers and emergency managers attended plenary, technical and policy sessions as well as field trips and tutorials. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom addressed the conference in plenary sessions while the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prevention and Prediction held a field hearing in connection with the conference. The subcommittee chairman, Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) focused on seismic risks in the San Francisco area and how to reduce risks in northern California and elsewhere. An interim report entitled "When the Big One Strikes Again - Estimated Losses due to a Repeat of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake" by Charles A. Kircher, Hope A. Seligson, Jawhar Bouabid and Guy C. Morrow was summarized and released at the conference. A PDF version of the report is available on the conference web site. Also available on the conference web site is a video that discusses what the next great quake will mean to northern California and what we should do to prepare now for impending earthquakes.

Conference schedule, report and videos are available at the conference web site. (5/4/06)

Previous Action

NEHRP Receives Request for NIST Funding
In 2004 President Bush signed the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) reauthorization (Public Law 108-360). This legislation reauthorized NEHRP for another five years and authorized $176.5 million dollars in spending spread over four agencies (NIST, FEMA, USGS and NSF). As the lead agency, NIST was eligible to receive $8 million in FY 2004, $10 million in FY 2005 and $13 million in FY 2006, however, NIST has not received any funding in these years and the program remains without coordinated leadership. For FY 2007, the President's request calls for $2 million for earthquakes, wind hazards, wildfires at the urban interface and complex systems-multihazard analysis. About 70% of these funds will be for NEHRP and wind hazards. NIST has recently named a new director, Jack Hayes, to run the NEHRP program and the four agencies will establish an advisory committee. In the near future, NIST will put out a request in the Federal Register for nominations for this committee and also for comments on revisions to the strategic plan which needs to be updated for 2006-2010. (2/28/06)

The Benefits of Seismic Monitoring
In January 2006, the National Academies released a report entitled "Improved Seismic Monitoring, Improved Decision Making, Assessing the Value of Reduced Uncertainty". The study was commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey and the objective was to provide advice about the economic benefits of seismic monitoring with emphasis on the benefits of implementing the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The report concludes that investments in monitoring of tens of millions could potentially save hundreds of millions in future losses.

The full report is available from the National Academies Press. (2/6/06)


In the mid 1970's, concern over the 1971 San Fernando earthquake and the Palmdale bulge (seismic zone in southern California) led to the formation of the Newmark-Stever Committee by the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Originally, the committee was to develop a program to understand and address the seismic hazards in southern California but was later expanded to include national earthquake hazards. The committee's recommendations were used to establish the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act, which became Public Law 95-124 on October 7, 1977. The Act established the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) as a long-term, nationwide, earthquake risk reduction program. It also designated member agencies and their activities and responsibilities.

NEHRP has supported research in several areas including: science of earthquakes, earthquake performance of buildings and other structures, earthquake-resistant structural design standards and practices, societal impacts, emergency response and recovery, regional land use planning; and education programs for the public. Member agencies in the NEHRP are the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The main focus of these agencies under NEHRP has been research and development.

In 1990, Senator Al Gore (D-TN) introduced a bill to reauthorize the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977. On November 16, 1990, this bill became Public Law 101-614 and significantly amended NEHRP by refining the agency responsibilities, program goals, and objectives to include:

  • Giving FEMA the primary responsibility for planning and coordinating NEHRP
  • Conducting earthquake hazard identification and vulnerability analyses
  • Developing seismic design and construction standards
  • Developing an earthquake prediction capability
  • Preparing plans for mitigation, preparedness and response activities
  • Conducting fundamental and applied research into the causes and implications of earthquake hazards
  • Educating the public about earthquake hazards.

NEHRP was reauthorized on October 19, 1994 by Public Law 103-374. This Act authorized $103 million for fiscal year (FY) 1995 and $106 million for FY 1996. The Act also directed the President to conduct an assessment of earthquake engineering research and testing facilities in the United States. The administration, through NSF and NIST, developed the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) to conduct the assessment. EERI made several recommendations regarding the state of the nation's earthquake engineering testing facilities. The primary recommendation among these was to develop and implement a comprehensive plan for upgrading existing earthquake engineering research and testing facilities.

On October 1, 1997, President Clinton signed into law the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) authorization bill for Fiscal Years 1998 and 1999. The law contains several new initiatives, including the development of a real-time seismic hazard warning system, an assessment of seismic monitoring networks, and a feasibility study for establishing a second emergency personnel training center on the West Coast. Increased funding levels were authorized for R&D in earthquake science, engineering, public education, and mitigation.

NEHRP was again reauthorized in 2000 for two years as Public Law 106-503. The reauthorization bill established the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) and the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), a nationwide network of monitors to measure shaking on the ground and in buildings. The goal of ANSS is to provide real-time earthquake information -- such as location, magnitude, and effect -- to emergency response personnel, engineers, and geoscientist. The initiative hopes to reduce loss of life and property by improving our understanding of earthquake occurrences, fault activity, and solid earth structure; and by providing information on how structures on different soils respond to earthquakes in order to improve construction. ANSS was authorized for $170 million over five years program, but the program has only been funded at only about 10 percent of this level.

On October 25 2004, President Bush signed the latest reauthorization of the NEHRP. PL 108-360, which reauthorizes the program for five years, moving it from the jurisdiction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The bill also authorizes a new National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program for three years. $900 million would be spent over the next five years on implementing earthquake hazard reduction measures as well as funding earthquake research activities such as the Advanced National Seismic System. Lawmakers must now grapple with the challenge of funding the program through four different appropriations bills: Interior, VA/HUD, Homeland Security, and Commerce.

For additional information see the USGS fact sheet The USGS Earthquake Hazards Program in NEHRP—Investing in a Safer Future and the Geotimes articles Milestones in Earthquake Research by Robert M. Hamilton and The Urban Evolution of U.S. Earthquake Monitoring by Lisa M. Pinsker.

Sources: USGS Earthquake Information website; White House Library website; FEMA website; National Science and Technology Council Report: Strategy for National Earthquake Loss Reduction; House Report 105-238; Senate Report 105-59; Seismological Society of America; House Science Committee press release; Congressional Record.

Contributed by David Millar 2004 AAPG/AGI Fall Semester Intern and Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on NEHRP for the 108th Congress.

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

Last updated on May 10, 2006.