Legislation to continue the multi-agency National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program for five years, and make modest changes in it, has quietly cleared Congress and is headed to the White House for President Trump’s expected signature.
Final congressional action on the measure [view bill text here.] came on Nov. 27, when the House cleared it on a voice vote. The federal earthquake program was last reauthorized in 2004. That authorization lapsed in 2009, though annual appropriations have kept the program operating since then.
The American Society of Civil Engineers, American Institute of Architects and other groups support the bill.
Brian Pallasch, ASCE managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives, says, "Probably the most important thing [about the legislation] is that we actually got this program reauthorized."
Pallasch says that the earthquake program is an important one. He adds, "It has netted a tremendous amount of new science, new engineering," and has promoted cooperation amoung the agencies that are part of it.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored the original Senate version of the bill, said in a statement, “It’s a question of when, not if, another major earthquake will strike the United States, and we have to be ready.”
Feinstein added, “This bipartisan effort ensures that vital research funds and the development of an early-warning system will continue so we’re prepared for the next big quake.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who co-sponsored the measure, said that it "builds upon the good work already underway through the Advanced National Seismic System to ensure communities in Alaska and across the country have the tools they need to be better prepared, safer and more resilient."
The new measure authorizes $735 million for the earthquake program from fiscal 2019 through 2023. The U.S. Geological Survey would get the largest share of that amount, $376 million. The authorizations still would require annual appropriations before funds can flow to the agencies.
The National Science Foundation would receive $287 million, the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be allotted $45 million and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would get $28 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The program’s fiscal 2017 enacted appropriations total $138.9 million for the four agencies.
Among other things, the legislation calls for production “a systematic set of maps of active faults and folds, liquefaction susceptibility, susceptibility for earthquake-induced landslides and other seismically induced hazards.”
It also instructs FEMA to carry out a program of grants to states, to help them with a variety of earthquake-related activities, including developing mitigation, preparedness and response plans, carry out seismic inspections “of critical structures and lifeline infrastructure,” and updating building and zoning codes and ordinances.
ASCE's Pallasch also notes that the new measure has "expanded the idea of increasing resilience of communities." He adds, "The federal government's been focused on that for some time but [the bill] made it part of this program."
Story updated on 11/30/2018 with comments from American Society of Civil Engineers