GAO Reports Highlights Opportunities For The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program


Late last week, the General Accountability Office (GA0) issued a new report on the status of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The report includes a number of recommendations focusing on the need for NEHRP to conduct a national assessment to identify progress and remaining gaps in earthquake resilience; develop strategies to better communicate research priorities; and follow leading practices to identify and leverage resources. Entitled, Earthquakes: Opportunities Exist to Further Assess Risk, Build Resilience, and Communicate Research. In the most recent NEHRP reauthorization, Congress directed GAO to conduct this study.

NEHRP was created in response to the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 which recognized the threat earthquakes pose and the enormous cost associated with them. NEHRP has provided the resources and leadership that have led to significant advances in understanding the risk earthquakes pose and the best ways to mitigate them. Through NEHRP, the federal government has engaged in seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, and engineering This work supports code development and advances mitigation techniques and emergency preparedness.

Although NEHRP is well known for its research programs, it is also the source of hundreds of innovative technologies, maps, design techniques, and standards that are used by design professionals every day to mitigate hazards and risks. NEHRP is a cost-effective and well-run program that has successfully reduced the risk of earthquakes through the cohesive efforts of four federal agencies: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

ASCE has been actively involved with NEHRP since its creation. ASCE members regularly serve on the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction (ACEHR) as well as working directly for the member agencies. Other ASCE members are actively engaged in seismic grant-based research. Additionally, ASCE is a leader of the NEHRP Coalition which actively supports the program on Capitol Hill. ASCE was instrumental in the 2004 reorganization of the program, as well as most recent reauthorization in 2018. The NEHRP program also feeds into ASCE standards, such as ASCE-7 and other seismic standards. ASCE subject experts were also consulted by GAO in the compilation of this report.

In its conclusions, GAO found that NEHRP has goals outlined in its most recent Strategic Plan for the improvement of earthquake resilience in communities nationwide. However, officials from NIST said that a national risk assessment has not been done to identify improvements and remaining gaps in resilience.

FEMA initiated some efforts to identify improvements by collecting data on the adoption of building codes. The NEHRP agencies are currently working to update the Strategic Plan for FY 2022-2029. By conducting a national risk assessment, NEHRP would gain greater awareness of earthquake resilience improvements and be better positioned in planning long-term goals and objectives toward closing remaining gaps.

In their responses, the four NEHRP agencies concurred with GAO’s findings and recommendations. All pledged to work to incorporate in to their ongoing programs.


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