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Furthermore, earthquakes may cause extensive damage to roads, to bridges; to infrastructure. These resources are not easily, nor quickly, replaced. Their extended lack of availability may have dramatic effect on the long-term viability of the local economy.
NEHRP is unique in that it is a research program administered by four Federal agencies: the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This requires a high level of coordination, which is FEMA's responsibil
Mitigation consists of measures we can take to prevent future losses or reduce the losses that might otherwise occur from natural disasters. If we are not implementing our results of our research efforts, then we are not fulfilling that purpose of the original statute which created NEHRP in 1977—which was to protect both life and property from earthquakes.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses concerning the level of implementation in which the country is engaged. Previous criticism of the program has focused on a lack of a clear strategy and set of goals. It is my hope that the new strategy implemented by the administration last year will be discussed today.
I know that there have been bills introduced in this Congress that deal with the Federal Government's role in disaster assistance and insurance. I hope the subcommittee, through our hearings today, will gain insight from this hearing on those bills and others pertaining to the role of the Federal Government in dealing with earthquakes and other natural disasters.
I would like to introduce our witnesses today, and then turn to my colleague. Our first witness will be Dr. Arch Johnston, Professor and Director of Research, Center for Earthquake Research and Information at the University of Memphis, a fellow Tennessean. He has authored numerous publications on the New Madrid Seismic Zone. He participates in numerous professional and technical societies, and I very specifically want to welcome him here today.
After that, we will hear from Mr. Richard Krimm, Associate Director of the Mitigation Directorate, Federal Emergency Management Agency; followed by Dr. Robert Hebner, Acting Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology; followed by Dr. Patrick Leahy, Chief Geologist, U.S. Geological Survey; and followed by Dr. Christina Gabriel, Acting Deputy Assistant Director for Engineering, National Science Foundation.
At this juncture, I would like to turn to my colleague for a statement, and then we will go straight into our testimony. STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER IV, U.S.
SENATOR FROM WEST VIRGINIA Senator ROCKEFELLER. And I am embarrassed, Mr. Chairman, by my lateness.
I would just say to the world at large, or to the 60 of us in this room, whichever the case may be, that being the ranking member on a committee chaired by Bill Frist is an honor for me. I consider him one of the real breaths of fresh air to come to the U.S. Senate in some time. We work on many areas together and, happily, Science, Technology, and Space will be one of those areas.
So, what we are doing today is very important. I live in the East, as do you. Both of us have earthquake areas that are potentially closer to us than a lot of our people think is the case. That is probably particularly true with Memphis.
But, in any event, this is not research for research sake. This is research for the business of saving lives. So I look forward to what the panelists have to say, Mr. Chairman, and I am very happy, as I say, to work with you.
Senator FRIST. Dr. Johnston, we will start with you. STATEMENT OF ARCH JOHNSTON, PROFESSOR AND DIREC.
TOR OF RESEARCH, CENTER FOR EARTHQUAKE RESEARCH AND INFORMATION, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
Dr. JOHNSTON. Chairman Frist and Senator Rockefeller, I appreciate the opportunity today to contribute to the reauthorization hearings for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.
I will focus my remarks on just two components of the NEHRP that I know best, the one being basic research and the other being seismic hazard problems of regions subject to infrequent but large earthquakes, the infamous low-probability-but-high-consequence events of which the Central and Eastern U.S. has had a disproportionate number, if you look at it globally. The three most famous of these were in the 19th century, the New Madrid Earthquakes and Charleston, South Carolina, and the Cape Anne, or Boston Earthquake. The latter was actually in the 18th century—1755.
These earthquakes are leading examples of a problem that is neglected for seismic hazards worldwide and, frankly, also within the NEHRP program. In fact, if you took the NEHRP program and based it on the seismic activity of the 19th century rather than on the 20th century, you would put 10 times the resources into the Central and Eastern U.S. rather than the Western U.S., as is done today. So, that is one aspect we do not understand—the variability in the occurrence of these earthquakes in the low-activity seismic belts of the world.
To provide you with a little context for my remarks, just a little background. I am a seismologist and currently a faculty member and Director of Research, as you introduced me, at CERI, at the University of Memphis. I have been a past President of the National Seismological Society of America, a past Member of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council, and currently serve on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Science of Earthquakes.
Now, when NEHRP began in 1977, I was a graduate student at the University of Colorado. A good bit of my graduate education was supported by early NEHRP research grants. So I go all the way back to the start of this program. I well remember as a graduate student worrying that all the important problems of earthquake prediction would be solved before I finished and was able to participate and contribute. That viewpoint sounds almost comically naive now, 20 years into NEHRP.
We have learned much-how enormously complex and diverse earthquakes really are. The more we learn, the further the original NEHRP goal of deterministic short-term earthquake prediction fades away or recedes from our view.
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The program has been reoriented, and I think rightfully so. I would submit, however, that the original goal of short-term earthquake prediction was not necessarily a bad thing.
In that regard, NEHRP is virtually a twin of another 1970's initiative. That was the war on cancer. We now know that it was very naive to expect that cancer would be cured within X number of years. But the long-term, focused effort engendered has paid enormous dividends. Increasing our basic knowledge of molecular-cellular biology has not cured cancer, but millions of Americans benefit, with improved health care.
The war on cancer has saved money, not cost money. It has been a success, not a failure. So, too, does NEHRP save money, not cost money. Funded at roughly $100 the level of cancer research, NEHRP is a tiny program, with perhaps just as intractable a founding problem and that is predicting earthquakes.
Predicting earthquakes will be as difficult, if not perhaps more difficult, than curing cancer. But the quest has led and will lead to tangible benefits, such as improved building codes, safer critical facilities and sharply enhanced mitigation efforts. All this is because we have a better fundamental understanding of earthquakes. Basic research is the engine that drives this progress and spins off the benefits.
Now, I understand the implementation gap problem, but that is not solved by reducing basic research. Just as better knowledge of cancer mechanisms drives and reinforces improved treatment, so does better knowledge of the earthquake mechanism transfer into improved mitigation and earthquake engineering. These are longterm budget deficit reducers, not short-term budget fixes.
Senator Frist, I will end these brief remarks with a few words on earthquake problems and potentials in and around our home State of Tennessee. Tennessee is a State bracketed by the two most active seismic zones in the Central and Eastern U.S., the wellknown New Madrid Seismic Zone, very close to Memphis, but also the East Tennessee Seismic Zone that underlies the Oak Ridge National Labs, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and a number of TVA nuclear plants.
Truly understanding an earthquake zone means being able to accurately characterize its seismic hazard and to do that within low uncertainty bounds. In this sense, our understanding of New Madrid is roughly one to two decades behind the understanding of California's San Andreas Fault System. In a like mode, the East Tennessee Seismic Zone would be a like distance behind our understanding of New Madrid. So our study and understanding of these zones is at a pretty rudimentary level.
For a research seismologist in these regions and these days—to borrow a phrase from Dickens—these are “the best of times and the worst of times.” The advance of knowledge in the Eastern U.S. has been startling; it is an exciting time to be a researcher in this region. But with the continued erosion of the NEHRP funding base, I see critical research going unfunded.
I'll give two examples. În the New Madrid Zone, there are two areas of research: paleoseismology, that is, study of past earthquakes that leave a geologic record that can be interpreted, and also direct measurement of the deformation going on in active
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earthquake zones, using global positioning system technology. These two advances give us independent means of estimating earthquake recurrence time that we have never had in these midplate earthquake zones. Both have tremendous potential to improve our seismic hazard estimates and our estimates of earthquake recurrence. But both are funded at bare subsistence levels that will hinder future progress.
The amount of research money available in the Central United States within one component of NEHRP—the USGS external program-has shrunk so small that most of my faculty at CERI no longer make the annual effort to get research grants funded. And even if they get a project funded, they know the budget will be slashed to the point that much of the research cannot be effectively done. My sense is that the USGS does what it can about this.
But in 1996, the entire external research program within the USGS— not just the Central United States—was cut in half, from $8 million to $4 million. In fiscal year 1997, $2 million was restored. That $6 million has become now the new base budget used in fiscal year 1998.
I urge the committee to authorize restoration of the vital external program at least to its original $8 million, and certainly a modest increase to $10 million could be amply justified.
I will make a final note of a trend in NEHRP that I feel is tremendously promising and should pay great dividends in revitalizing and focusing earthquake research, and also to much more directly link it to information in mitigation efforts. These are the partnerships we see forming within NEHRP, mainly in the form of regional research centers, consortia. Two outstanding examples of very successful efforts in this regard are supported by the NSF and USGS. The Southern California Earthquake Center, I think all would agree, has been tremendously successful, and also IRIS, the Incorporated Research Institutions in Seismology, has been perhaps the most outstanding research effort in the academic community.
More such centers in other parts of the country may be formed during an exciting new NSF competition for new earthquake engineering research centers. These will almost certainly be much more broadly structured to address all aspects of the earthquake problem, from basic research, through engineering applications, to aggressive implementation and public education and information.
For example, several institutions, including mine, in the Central United States have proposed, under this program, a center named simply the Mid-America Earthquake Center. There is no engineering in the title, and we did that on purpose, to emphasize the broad base rather than a narrow engineering focus. I think that is the future of NEHRP and the proper one.
Perhaps there will be time during the question-and-answer period to further discuss these and other NEHRP issues.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a glimpse of the successes and problems of the NEHRP program from a basic research and Central United States perspective. Thank you.
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PREPARED STATEMENT OF ARCH JOHNSTON, PROFESSOR AND DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CENTER FOR EARTHQUAKE RESEARCH AND INFORMATION, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS
Chairman Frist, members of the subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity today to contribute to the reauthorization hearings for the National Earthquake Hazards Protection program. I will focus my remarks on the two components of the NEHRP that I know best: basic research; and the seismic hazard problems of regions subject to large but infrequent earthquakes. I feel sure that with the panel you've assembled today the other key aspects of NEHRP will be more than adequately covered. Basic research tries to answer the how, how often, why, and where of earthquakes. The latter component concerns the infamous low-probability-but-high-consequence events that are so difficult to handle in a probabilístic hazard context. The central and eastern U.S. with its 19th century New Madrid and Charleston earthquakes and the 18th century Cape Ann (Boston) earthquake is the leading example in the world of a region that suffers such events. These were major earthquakes: in fact a NEHRP program based on the seismic activity and seismic energy release of the 19th century rather than the 20th, would put 10 times the resources into the centraleastern U.S. rather than the western U.S. as is done today. Basic Research: The Engine for Mitigation and Implementation
As context for my remarks, I'll provide a little personal background, I'm a seismologist and currently a faculty member and Director of Research at the Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI) at the University of Memphis. CERI is a Board of Regents Center of Excellence, established in 1984 by the State of Tennessee. I'm a past-President of the National Earthquake Prediction Society of America, a past member of the National Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Panel and currently serve on the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on the Science of Earthquakes. When NEHRP began in 1977 I was a graduate student, and part of my graduate education at the University of Colorado was supported by early NEHRP research grants. I well remember as a graduate student worrying that all the important problems of earthquake prediction would be solved before I finished and was able to participate and contribute. That view point sounds almost comically naive now, 20 years into NEHRP. We have learned much--how enormously complex and diverse earthquakes really are. And the more we learn, the further the original NEHRP goal of earthquake prediction seems to recede from view. I would submit that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Except in size NEHRP is a virtual twin to another 1970's initiative: the War on Cancer. We now know it was very naive to expect that the cancer would be cured within x number of years. But the long-term focused effort engendered by that goal has paid enormous dividends by increasing our basic knowledge of molecular and cellular biology. Cancer has not been cured but millions of Americans have benefited from the improved health care made possible by the effort. The War on Cancer has saved money not cost money. It has been a success not a failure.
So to, does NEHRP save money and not cost money. Funded at roughly 1/100 the level of cancer research, NEHRP is a tiny program with perhaps just as intractable a founding problem. Predicting earthquakes will be as difficult if not more difficult than curing cancer. But the basic research engendered by the effort has led and will lead to tangible benefits; improved building codes, safer critical facilities, and sharply enhanced mitigation efforts. All this is because we have a better fundamental understanding of earthquakes. Basic research is the engine that drives this progress and spins off the benefits.
I understand the NEHRP “implementation-gap" problem, highlighted in the OTA report "Reducing Earthquake Losses.” It is engendered in part by the very successes of NEHRP-sponsored earthquake science basic research, but that problem is not solved by reducing basic research. Just as better knowledge of cancer drives-even forces-improved treatments, so too does better knowledge of the earthquake mechanism translate into improved mitigation and earthquake engineering applications. And better mitigation and implementation measures are long-term budget deficit reducers that will not occur if the basic research input is curtailed by short-term budget fixes.
The argument is frequently heard that basic research has done it job; we now know enough about earthquakes and the effort should be entirely or mostly in mitigation and implementation. Let me tackle that question with an illustration from one of the signal successes of NEHRP: the NEHRP seismic hazard maps of 1997 that are the basis for the 1997 NEHRP seismic building code recommendations. The recommendations have for the first time provided the nation with an uniform seismic standards for all the national codes. The hazard maps that underpin the recommendations represent a major advance. Individual faults, some several hundred