Expert Report

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The United States will be subject to damaging earthquakes in the future, and some earthquakes will occur in highly populated and vulnerable areas with major effects on the nation as a whole. Efforts to reduce such effects are needed to limit the loss of life, damage to buildings, and economic cost of a major earthquake. This report presents a 20-year roadmap for earthquake hazard and risk reduction, assessing the activities, and their costs, that would be required for the nation to achieve earthquake resilience. The report identifies 18 specific task elements required to improve national earthquake resilience, and estimates the annual cost of implementing the roadmap to earthquake resilience at $306.5 million per year for the first five years

Key Messages

  • A disaster-resilient nation is one in which its communities, through mitigation and pre-disaster preparation, develop the adaptive capacity to maintain important community functions and recover quickly when major disasters occur.
  • The United States has not suffered a truly devastating earthquake in more than a hundred years; in recent decades, earthquakes in this country have been only moderate to strong in size or have occurred in sparsely populated areas. The committee expressed concern that many in the United States may assume that the nation already is earthquake resilient, but a recent earthquake-scenario exercise in Los Angeles indicated that even a magnitude-7.8 earthquake would result in staggering losses. The committee also noted the lack of disaster resilience demonstrated in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
  • In 2008, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program -- a multi-agency program mandated by Congress to undertake activities to reduce the effects of future earthquakes -- developed a Strategic Plan for future activities. The committee endorses the Program's Strategic Plan, and concludes that 18 specific task elements are required to implement that plan and materially improve national earthquake resilience. The 18 tasks are:
    1.Undertake additional research to improve understanding of earthquake phenomena and to increase earthquake-prediction capabilities.
    2.Deploy the remaining 75 percent of the Advanced National Seismic System, which provides earthquake alerts that describe a magnitude and location within a few minutes after an earthquake as well as the basic data required for many of the task elements.
    3.Evaluate, test, and deploy earthquake early warning systems.
    4.Complete coverage of national and urban seismic hazard maps to identify at-risk areas as the basis for engineering and policy decision-making.
    5.Develop and implement earthquake forecasting to provide communities with information on how seismic hazards change with time.
    5.Develop scenarios that integrate earth science, engineering, and social science information so that communities can visualize earthquake and tsunami impacts and mitigate potential effects.
    7.Integrate science, engineering, and social science information in an advanced GIS-based platform to improve earthquake risk assessment and loss estimation.
    8.Model expected and improvised emergency response and recovery activities and outcomes to improve pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness.
    9.Capture, disseminate, and create a repository of the critical information that describes the geological, structural, institutional, and socioeconomic impacts and disaster response after earthquakes occur.
    10.Support social sciences research to evaluate mitigation and recovery.
    11.Establish an observatory network to measure, monitor, and model the disaster vulnerability and resilience of communities.
    12.Integrate the knowledge gained from many of the tasks to enable accurate simulations of fault rupture, seismic wave propagation through bedrock, and soil-structure interaction to understand the response of the built environment to shaking and compute reliable estimates of financial loss, business interruption, and casualties.
    13.Develop new techniques for evaluating and retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand earthquakes.
    14.Enhance performance-based engineering for buildings for better building design, and for improved codes and standards for buildings and other structures.
    15.Review and update standards so that critical "lifeline" infrastructure, such as electricity, highways, and water supply, can function following an earthquake.
    16.Develop and deploy the next-generation of "green" high-performance construction materials and components for use in buildings' seismic framing systems.
    17.Encourage and coordinate technology transfer between the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the private sector.
    18.Initiate earthquake resiliency pilot projects in local communities to improve awareness, reduce risk, and improve emergency preparedness and recovery capacity.
  • The 18 task elements identified by the committee range comprise a "roadmap" to national earthquake resilience. The task elements range from basic research to advance the frontiers of knowledge through to implementation of community-oriented applications.
  • The report provides estimated costs for each of the 18 tasks, calculated by determining scope, implementation steps, linkages and overlaps with other tasks. For some tasks, the necessary analysis had already been completed in workshops or other venues, and realistic cost estimates were available as input to the committee. For other tasks, the committee had to rely on its own expert opinion.
  • In summary, the annualized cost for the first five years of the roadmap for national earthquake resilience presented in this report is $306.5 million per year, in 2009 dollars.