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Hearings on the Reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program: R&D for Disaster Resilient Communities were held on June 11, 2009 by the the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. Testimony of the invited witnesses is available on the Committee's website at
SSA submitted the following written comment for the record.

Comment on Reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

June 24, 2009

The Honorable David Wu
Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation
Committee on Science and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
  The Honorable Adrian Smith
Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation
Committee on Science and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Wu and Ranking Member Smith:

On behalf of the Seismological Society of America (SSA), an international non-profit scientific society founded in 1906 and devoted to the advancement of the earthquake sciences and engineering, we thank you for scheduling the June 11th hearing on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The SSA embraces the National Vision statement of the NEHRP — a Nation that is earthquake resilient in public safety, economic strength, and national security — and urges Congress to reauthorize and fully fund this critical public safety legislation in the current Congress.

The last reauthorization (PL 108-360) provided significant changes to program leadership, organization and reporting requirements. These changes included naming the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as the lead agency, directing the creation of the Interagency Coordination Committee (ICC) and creating the external Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction (ACEHR). Also as part of the last reauthorization NIST created a new strategic plan for NEHRP, with three major program goals - improve the understanding of earthquake processes and impacts; develop cost-effective measures to reduce earthquake impacts on individuals, the built environment, and society; and improve the earthquake resilience of communities nationwide. SSA feels that the results of these changes have been very beneficial to NEHRP.

While significant progress has been made since the last reauthorization, and indeed in the last 30 years of NEHRP, further work needs to be done. A fully functional national seismic monitoring network is necessary to meet many of the goals identified in the NEHRP Strategic Plan. The success of near-real time Web-based information products, like ShakeMap, PAGER, and HAZUS, which were developed by the NEHRP agencies for earthquake emergency response, depends on reliable data from the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). Private and public sector organizations have incorporated these decision support tools into their emergency management programs and are expecting them to be accurate and available following significant, damaging earthquakes. SSA therefore strongly supports the full implementation of the ANSS and urges Congress to appropriate its full authorized funding. SSA further supports the development of seismic design standards for national model building codes by FEMA and urges the adoption of the seismic design standards in the International Building Codes by local and state jurisdictions. NEHRP has significantly helped advance these seismic designs by supporting research which has focused on the understanding of earthquake sources in our Nation and their impacts.

The NEHRP strategic plan has also offered opportunities for the four Federal agencies to increase their ties to the professional communities as well as foster synergies with those who work with other natural hazards like tsunamis, wind, flood and fire. In looking for areas of cooperation between hazard communities, it is possible to find useful overlaps between NEHRP activities and those of other hazard and risk mitigation efforts, specifically in the response and preparation.

However, it is important to emphasize that the scientific and engineering issues associated with each hazard differ significantly, making direct interactions difficult in these technical areas. Earthquakes in particular are a unique hazard. Scientists currently lack the ability to reliably and accurately predict them with sufficient time parameters to be effective. While hurricanes, tornadoes, and even wildfires can be assumed to have increased risk at certain times in the year, there is no earthquake season; they are a “no notice” hazard.

The success of NEHRP has as much to do with the length of time the program has existed, over 30 years, as it does the with the capacity building and a building of trust among key players, resulting in an integrated network of both the research and the mitigation implementation communities ( including state and local governments and invested stakeholders). NEHRP serves as an outstanding model of how a multi-agency collaboration focused on a specific problem, reducing earthquake risk, through an integrated plan of agency and extramural research and implementation strategies can succeed. Rather than attempt to dilute the strong integrated network of researchers and stakeholders that NEHRP has developed over the last 30 years, emulate that model to create similar parallel programs and collaborations to reduce the risk from other natural perils.

SSA believes it is vitally important for Congress to review the changes to the program enacted in Public Law 108-360 and move forward with reauthorization. SSA wishes to recognize the excellent leadership shown by all of the NEHRP agencies since the last reauthorization, and in particular the role of NIST as the NEHRP Lead Agency.

Thank you for the opportunity to express our views. We believe that timely and deliberate reauthorization of NEHRP is in the best interest of the nation. If SSA can be of more assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Executive Director Susan Newman at 510-559-1782 or email snewman [at] seismosoc [dot] org.

[Signed by]

Susan Newman
Executive Director
  Richard C. Aster
Last Modified: 2009 Jul 10