Oregon Congressman David Wu Welcomes Introduction of Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act in Senate
March 31, 2011 • 6:46AM

Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) welcomed the introduction Senate Bill S 646, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act, on March 21 by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA). The bill is identical to Wu's 2010 House-passed legislation. Wu plans to reintroduce his bill when the House convenes after the district work period and work again to build bipartisan support for its passage.

Wu said, "This is a very important step forward for a very important bill, which I authored last year to protect coastal communities in Oregon and around the nation from the kind of devastation we recently witnessed in Japan.

Congressman Wu's legislation, the Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act, would reauthorize hazard-reduction programs that protect families and businesses. It passed the House of Representatives in 2010 with bipartisan support, but a companion bill was never introduced in the Senate.

"It shouldn't take a natural disaster to get Congress focused on the need for improved earthquake and tsunami monitoring, first responder protocols, and public education about safety procedures," Wu said. "That's why I worked to shepherd this bill through the House last year, and today I am encouraged by the Senate's clear recognition of the urgency of my legislation."

On the day of the Japan disaster, Friday, March 11, 2011, Wu spoke on the House floor and sent a letter to House appropriators expressing his strong opposition to proposed funding cuts to agencies that comprise our nation's natural hazards preparedness and response capabilities.

"Our constituents, often unknowingly, rely on federal programs when natural disasters occur," Wu said in the letter. "Defunding these services comes at much too high a cost."

The bill deals with preparation for all sorts of national disasters, not only earthquakes, but also wind storms. The lead agency is the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The other agencies involved are FEMA, the US Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Science Foundation.

The Wu and Boxer/Feinstein bills would thus reauthorize the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), under which the above-mentioned four federal agencies have responsibility for long-term earthquake risk reduction.

As reported by The Congressional Research Service, the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act establishing NEHRP was passed in 1977. The program initially focused on research, led by USGS and NSF, toward understanding and ultimately predicting earthquakes. However, in its 1990 reauthorization, the NEHRP program shifted its focus to disaster mitigation after the earthquakes occur, rather than earthquake prediction. The current bill reflects this shift.

Under the bill the National Institute of Standards and Technology is tasked to establish improved "building codes and standards and practices for buildings, structures and lifelines." The USGS is specifically tasked to "conduct research and other activities necessary to characterize and identify earthquake hazards, assess earthquake risks, monitor seismic activity and provide real-time earthquake information." The USGS is also tasked to "monitor and assess Earth surface deformation as it pertains to the evaluation of earthquake hazards and impacts." It is also called upon to "operate, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, a Global Seismographic Network for detection of earthquakes around the world and research into fundamental earth processes."

The total budget proposed for the year 2011 for the earthquake related program is under $171.4 million. The funding increases slightly per year thereafter for a total of $906 million over five years.