On December 11th, President Trump signed S. 1768, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which reauthorizes the federal program to improve the nation’s earthquake preparedness for five years. The legislation is the first reauthorization of the NEHRP in 15 years and the program has operated without an authorization since October of 2009.
In addition to reauthorizing the program, the bill makes reforms by:
- Expanding to the scope of the program to include increasing the resilience of communities and to developing new planning codes along with model building codes.
- Including a definition of Community Resilience and referring to “Lifelines” as “lifeline infrastructure.”
- Requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the program, the activities of the program agencies, and the effectiveness of its application to both public and private earthquake risk and hazard reduction activities within 3 years.
- Requiring Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to convene a committee of experts to recommend options for improving the built environment and critical infrastructure needed to support Community Recovery and resilience.
- Removing outdated language related to earthquake prediction and instead emphasizing the continued development of earthquake early warning systems through the Advanced National Seismic System.
- Enhancing coordination and data sharing among federal and state agencies.
ASCE Advocates for NEHRP
ASCE and others in the earthquake community, most prominently the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) and the Seismological Society of America (SSA), worked with Members of Congress, their personal staffs and staff of the Senate Commerce Committee, the House Science and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees, in crafting and approving this legislation. Congressional leaders in the effort were Senators Feinstein (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-CA) on the Senate side and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith (R-CA), Congressman Steve Knight (D-CA) and Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) on the House side.
Over the past 9 years, each of the previous efforts at reauthorization were derailed, often by unrelated partisan issues, even with efforts by ASCE and other groups pushing to keep the issue alive. ASCE’s efforts have included four official testimonies before three different Congressional committees, including Anne S. Kiremidjian, Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE before the Senate Commerce Committee and Chris Poland, P.E., S.E., NAE, M.ASCE, F.SEI before the House Science Committee, both 2011. In 2015, John D. Hooper, P.E., S.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Most recently, Poland, testified again before the House Science Committee on June 2, 2018. ASCE sent more than 40 letters to Members of Congress and Congressional leadership, while staff made over 160 Congressional office visits to advance the bill. ASCE grassroots activities included 12 Key Alerts, which resulted in 1,000 emails and calls by Key Contacts in 2018 alone. Thank you to our members who stepped up to testify for NEHRP reauthorization, our Key Contacts who sent numerous emails to their Members of Congress, and all other ASCE members for your continued support and advocacy efforts!
First created in 1977, NEHRP coordinates federal research to understand and mitigate the impact of earthquakes. It coordinates the activities of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation, and can draw on the expertise of other federal and state agencies.
Through NEHRP, the federal government has engaged in seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, engineering, and related reference materials for building code development, mitigation, and emergency preparedness. NEHRP is the source for hundreds of new technologies, maps, design techniques, and standards that are used by design professionals every day to mitigate risks and save lives, protect property, and reduce adverse economic impacts.
The nine-year path to reauthorization of the program is a case study in the difficulties of moving legislation, even non-controversial programs such as NEHRP, through Congress over the past several years.