2009-12 Update

The Seismological Society of America and its Government Relations Committee has been very active in Washington, DC, over the past several months, raising the profile of the SSA and calling attention to the importance and need for earthquake science research and outreach.

In July, SSA co-sponsored a congressional briefing on the Great Southern California ShakeOut 2008. The panelists were Lucile Jones, chief scientist, Multi Hazards Project, U.S. Geological Survey; Gary Sturdivan, Emergency Manager, East Valley Water District, San Bernardino, California; and Steven Sellers, Assistant Secretary for Prevention, Operations and Recovery, California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA). They highlighted the science behind the ShakeOut and the implementation of lessons learned from the ShakeOut to strengthen infrastructure and improve emergency response. Some of the keys to success included a broad-based outreach program, media engagement, and public advocacy by hundreds of partners. A comprehensive sciencebased earthquake scenario helped make the hazard real to people, and communication approaches that applied decades of social science research helped get people to be better prepared. The panel also focused on the interdependency of utilities and infrastructure resilience and the tangential losses to the nation that would be associated with California being offline following a large earthquake in Southern California. Dr. Jones also commented on the success of the 2008 event and her hopes for even bigger events in 2009 and 2010. The event was well attended by congressional staff from the House, Senate, and select committees, as well as interested members from the seismic community. Feedback from the event was so positive that requests for the speakers to return to DC and brief specific delegations from California were made, and an additional briefing was presented to the California Democratic delegation.

In September, SSA was again a key player in the preparations and execution of the sixth annual USGS Coalition reception, an event that showcases the successes of USGS programs and its publicprivate partnerships. SSA President Rick Aster and Vice-President Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade attended. The USGS Coalition presented Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) with the USGS Coalition Leadership Award. The event was the largest to date, with congressional staffers from both the House and Senate in attendance, along with key USGS staff. Another highlight of the evening occurred when Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA) dropped by just to say a few words of support for the USGS and its more than a century of great work.

SSA was represented at the second Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GEO-CVD) event in Washington on 15 and 16 September. The GEOCVD provides participants with the opportunity to meet other geoscientists for a day of informational sessions on topics ranging from budgeting processes in federal agencies to how to conduct a congressional visit. Agency leaders are brought in to provide insight into the process of government and answer questions from the participants on budget issues, funding requirements, and programs. Policy professionals also lead sessions on the ins and outs of government affairs and policy legislation. The second day is an opportunity for participants to meet with members of Congress to highlight the importance of geoscience programs and funding and also provide direct comments on specific issues as they relate to their home district or organization. This year, Christa von Hillebrandt-Andrade attended the GEO-CVD on behalf of SSA, the University of Puerto Rico, and the Puerto Rico Seismic Network. Christa had a full day and a half of meetings with various members of Congress and was able to point to the need for increased seismic funding, not only nationally, but in the Caribbean as well. Christa did an excellent job of highlighting the impact of science funding across many arenas, including private sector, government program, and university research. We look forward to next year’s event, tentatively scheduled for 20–21 September 2010. If you are interested in participating in next year’s GEO-CVD, contact Susan Newman (snewman@seismosoc.org) for more information.

In addition to representation at these events, other members of the SSA Government Relations Committee, including John Anderson and Jim Lewkowicz, made targeted visits to congressional and executive branch staff. Additionally, Rick Aster, SSA President and ex officio member of the GRC, is contributing technical expertise to an intersociety effort to educate congressional staff about monitoring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty with visits to the Hill in November and early 2010.
SSA maintains a committed and continued presence in several professional associations, including the USGS Coalition, the Hazards Caucus Alliance, the NEHRP Coalition, the Coalition for National Science Funding, and the Hazards Caucus Alliance Geopolicy Working Group. SSA is in attendance at monthly meetings, participates in meetings with key congressional offices throughout the year, and works with others in developing and implementing a briefing schedule to highlight multiple science efforts. Through our representation in the capital, SSA tracks legislation and appropriations and attends congressional hearings and meetings with key staffers.

The biggest news this fall was the progress of the reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. The House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing in June on the current iteration of the NEHRP bill. Witnesses included Jack Hayes, NEHRP Director at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Ken Murphy, Director, Oregon Office of Emergency Management; Tom O’Rourke, professor of engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University; Michael Lindell, professor of landscape architecture and urban planning, Texas A&M University; and Jim Harris, President, JR Harris & Company. The witnesses all testified to the success of the NEHRP and the tremendous progress that has been made in the last five years. Dr. Hayes credited much of the success of the NEHRP program to the dedication and commitment of the earthquake science community. The tone of the hearing, in the form of questions from the representatives, stressed the interconnectedness of hazards and the importance of social science in disaster response. The outcome of that hearing was a drastically altered NEHRP bill, “The Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2009.” The new bill (HR3820) makes minor changes to the NEHRP and wind portions of the previous legislation; however, it adds a new component that calls for the creation of a new interagency coordinating committee on multihazards. This new committee, which will include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will look at hazard research across disciplines and agencies as well as coordinating the NEHRP and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP). The bill was passed unanimously out of the House Science and Technology Committee on 21 October 2009, and awaits a full House vote. The Senate is working on its version of the NEHRP bill, but at this time, no draft is available for review.

Looking ahead to the second session of the 111th Congress set to begin in January, the agenda in the Senate is already clogged and will likely remain that way well into 2010. With several fiscal year 2010 appropriations budgets yet to be signed into law, the reality of an omnibus appropriations bill, or “minibus” as they are calling it, is great. Additionally, healthcare is taking a lot of time to move forward, and the climate change bill will be delayed until spring, despite the Administration’s hope to have a bill passed in time for the United Nations global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. Finally, the budget and spending process for the next fiscal year (2011) will take up considerable time in committees and on the floors of both chambers after the unveiling of the president’s budget in February 2010.

Stu Nishenko
Government Relations Committee

Elizabeth Duffy
Government Affairs Director
The Federal Affairs Office

The biggest news this fall was the progress of the reauthorization of the NEHRP Bill in the House. The outcome of the hearing was a drastically altered NEHRP Bill named “The Natural Hazard Risk Reduction Act of 2009”. The new House Bill (HR3820) makes minor changes to the NEHRP and Wind portions of the previous bill; however, it adds a new component that calls for the creation of a new interagency coordinating committee on multi-hazards.