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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP): Issues in Brief

Peter Folger
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy

Under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), four federal agencies have responsibility for long-term earthquake risk reduction: the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). These agencies assess U.S. earthquake hazards, deliver notifications of seismic events, develop measures to reduce earthquake hazards, and conduct research to help reduce overall U.S. vulnerability to earthquakes. Congressional oversight of the NEHRP program encompasses how well the four agencies coordinate their activities to address the earthquake hazard. Better coordination was a concern that led to changes to the program in legislation enacted in 2004 (P.L. 108-360).

P.L. 108-360 authorized appropriations for NEHRP through FY2009. Total funding enacted from reauthorization through FY2009 was $613.2 million, approximately 68% of the total amount of $902.4 million authorized by P.L. 108-360. Although authorization for appropriations expired in 2009, Congress has continued to appropriate funds for NEHRP activities. NEHRP agencies spent $125.5 million for program activities in FY2012, slightly less than FY2011 spending of $126.6 million. Also, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA; P.L. 111-5) provided some additional funding for earthquake activities under NEHRP.

What effect funding at the levels enacted through FY2013 under NEHRP has had on the U.S. capability to detect earthquakes and minimize losses after an earthquake occurs is difficult to assess. The effectiveness of the NEHRP program is a perennial issue for Congress: it is inherently difficult to capture precisely, in terms of dollars saved or fatalities prevented, the effectiveness of mitigation measures taken before an earthquake occurs. A major earthquake in a populated urban area within the United States would cause damage, and in question is how much damage would be prevented by mitigation strategies underpinned by the NEHRP program.

Legislation introduced during the 113
th Congress, Title 1 of H.R. 2132, would make changes to the program and would authorize appropriations totaling $906 million over five years through FY2017 for NEHRP. Ninety percent of the funding would be designated for the USGS and NSF, and the remainder for FEMA and NIST. H.R. 2132 awaits further action in the House.

Date of Report: July 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: R43141
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