U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13)today secured subcommittee approval of her proposal to reauthorize the nation's lead task force assigned to protect against earthquakes. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) was established by Congress in 1977 to coordinate federal research and planning efforts to mitigate the loss of life and property due to earthquakes. Last reauthorized in 2004, the program provides key leadership on geological studies, early-warning systems, building codes, emergency planning, and other earthquake-related activities. Biggert's proposal, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011, modernizes and reauthorizes NEHRP. The draft bill, which also includes wind-related provisions, was approved today by the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation.
"NEHRP coordinates across federal agencies to ensure that American families, municipalities, and infrastructure are prepared for the unexpected," said Biggert, a senior member of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. "It's hard to imagine what could have happened if the earthquake in Virginia had been closer to the magnitude of those in Haiti or Japan. This bill will ensure that we are ready to respond, and it keeps attention focused on protecting key points of vulnerability like nuclear facilities, dams, and population centers."
In addition to reauthorizing the program through 2014, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act of 2011 updates the responsibilities of the four agencies that make up NEHRP: the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill also establishes an earthquake advisory committee of non-federal experts. In addition, it reauthorizes the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP), and tasks NIST as the lead agency for both NEHRP and NWIRP. Finally, it requires a report to Congress on federal research, development, and technology transfer activities that address mitigation for all types of natural hazards.
"From those managing building codes to earth sciences, it's critical that all federal stakeholders are working together effectively to protect public safety," said Biggert. "We can't stop earthquakes, but we can be ready. And this legislation will help to provide the security and peace-of-mind that Americans deserve."
As part of NEHRP, the federal government monitors seismic activities in Illinois using sensors in Chicago, Marion, Salem, Cairo, and Hopedale. If a 7.7 magnitude earthquake were to strike along the New Madrid fault, which runs through Illinois, the National Academies of Science estimates that 715,000 buildings could be damaged across 8 states, resulting in $300 billion in direct economic loss, and up to 86,000 casualties with 3,500 fatalities.