Bill to be Signed into Law to Reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

By Laura Szymanski, GSA Science Policy Fellow

A bill to reauthorize and amend the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), S. 1768, was sent to the President’s desk on 27 November 2018.  NEHRP was established by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 to improve the understanding of earthquakes and their effects, develop methods to reduce the impacts of earthquakes, and improve communities’ earthquake resilience.

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) logo; photo credit: nehrp.gov

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) logo; Credit: nehrp.gov

NEHRP is an effort to reduce fatalities and injuries, as well as property damage associated with earthquakes. The program strives to promote knowledge, tools, and best-practices in relation to earthquakes to improve earthquake resilience in public safety, economic strength, and national security.  This program is a cooperative effort by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with additional state and local partners.  Each agency provides a vital component to NEHRP from research, to development, and finally implementation.  Broadly, through research the program develops and implements strategies to reduce the adverse effects of earthquakes thereby improving earthquake resilience.

NIST is the lead agency for NEHRP and contributes to all functions of NEHRP.  The NSF contributes by funding basic and empirical earthquake-related research as well as cooperating with the USGS on the USGS-developed Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS).  The ANSS is a seismic network that provides real-time data on earthquakes and is integral to ShakeAlert a USGS early warning system to allow individuals time to get to safety prior to earthquake-related shaking.  The USGS further contributes to NEHRP by performing and supporting research related to earthquake monitoring and reporting and by creating National Seismic Hazard Maps.  FEMA’s main role is implementation of the research and development, by publishing and documenting findings to promote more resilient buildings and infrastructure, working with organizations to update building codes and policies, and by disseminating grants to state and local governments to improve earthquake resilience.

Depiction of the four coordinating agencies’ roles in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP); photo credit: fema.gov

Depiction of the four coordinating agencies’ roles in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP); Credit: fema.gov

The previous bill expired in 2009 and attempts to reauthorize this bill has been underway since, including recent House hearings.   While the bill expired in 2009, Congress has continued to fund the program and main functions of NEHRP have continued.  The 2005 reauthorization bill established the Interagency Coordinating Committee (ICC) on Earthquake Hazards Reduction to develop a strategic plan and to report to Congress.  The ICC includes directors from the four contributing agencies – NIST, FEMA, NSF, and USGS –  as well as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), with the director of NIST as the chair.  Since the expiration of the bill in 2009, this ICC has only sporadically met.

The 2018 bill seeks further coordination among the contributing agencies and reporting to Congress.   This bill will allow leadership in the ICC to be delegated to appropriate staff within the contributing agencies and requires the development of a strategic plan and management plan within 6 months.  This reauthorization bill will also leverage federal dollars to maximize benefits by coordinating an interagency budget for the program with overall authorization at the FY 2018 appropriated levels of $8.7 million annually for 5 years.  Other changes in this bill include a new distinction between risks and hazards and emphasize NEHRP’s role in resilience rather than prediction.

Elizabeth Duffy, a D.C. government relations specialist, has been working on NEHRP reauthorization on behalf of the Seismological Society of America. Says Duffy, “NERHP is a tremendously successful program and I’m thrilled to see it re-authorized. The collaborative framework of NEHRP encourages all four agencies to work together to develop strategies and tools to reduce the impact of earthquakes to the nation.”

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