(Washington, DC) – Today the House Committee on Science and Technology’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) in preparation to write legislation for the program’s reauthorization.
“It is vital that we examine programs like this closely, since earthquakes and other natural threats can be devastating in their impact,” stated Subcommittee Chairman David Wu (D-OR). “For example, in the United States, wind and fire cause approximately $28 billion worth of damages and kill an average of 4,350 Americans each year. We can and must do a better job of hazards mitigation in order to protect our communities as much as possible from the devastation these disasters can cause.”
The 2004 NEHRP authorization (P.L. 108-360) expires at the end of FY09. The program is led by the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) and includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). These agencies work with professionals, including engineers and researchers, as well as state and local partners.
The program has been widely lauded for its strategic and coordinated approach to preparation, prediction, and response to earthquakes. Although the latest NEHRP authorization in 2004 also included a title creating the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP), research for wind and other hazards is not yet produced the similar results.
“We’ve found that federal agencies currently have a stovepipe approach to hazards mitigation research activities,” said Wu. “Separate and distinct programs exist for earthquake, tsunami, fire, and wind threats, despite areas of commonality such as prediction research, emergency preparedness needs, and the potential for mitigation via enhanced construction codes. It is worth exploring whether a coordinated, comprehensive, and fully funded hazards mitigation program could be a more effective approach than the current stovepipe structure, where different hazards communities fight for their own funding priorities and lessons learned are less likely to be shared between those researching various threats.”
The hearing also examined the role of social science research, which would be used to understand behavior and educate the public.
“The key to successful mitigation of any and all potential hazards is a coordinated and effective public education program,” said Wu.