Already-Puny Earthquake Hazards-Reduction Suffers from Further Underfunding
April 1, 2011 • 8:41AM

On March 10 and 11, officials from the agencies making up the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program testified before the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction, that budget reductions to their programs are affecting their ability to improve earthquake resilience throughout the country. Mike Mahony, the senior geophysicist in FEMA's Building Sciences Branch, told the committee that FEMA's portion of the program was cut by 13 percent or $1.2 million, in FY 2011. California took a 60-percent hit in risk-based funding, and there were significant cuts for other high risk states as well.

"These reductions will significantly impact the states' ability to prepare for and mitigate the effects of the next major event," Mahony said. The FY11 budget problems also mean a loss of four staffing positions. As for FY12, an additional cut of $1.4 million is anticipated. "This would put FEMA NEHRP back to historic lows in terms of resources and staffing." The resulting budget of $6.4 million provides for a staff of just five people.

This is what Rep. Wu's bill in the House, and its companion legislation in the Senate, would reverse.

The overall funding for NEHRP, which also includes the US Geological Survey, the National Science Foundation and National Institute for Standards and Technology, peaked at $131.2 million in FY 2010, while President Obama's FY 2012 budget only requests $121.9 million, a drop of about 6 percent. This contrasts to the $330 million per year which the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute estimated was needed to stimulate measurable improvement in the nation's resilience to earthquakes.

In fact, in its 2010 annual report, released last May, the advisory committee noted that funding levels have been consistently below Congressional authorizations. "The lack of funding at authorized levels has impacted the activities of all the NEHRP agencies and seriously limited development of the information and tools needed to arrest growth of the potential for catastrophic earthquakes," the committee reported. "There should be no doubt that the nation is facing multiple catastrophic earthquakes on the order of those recently seen in China, Italy, Haiti, and Chile. It will take decades of effort to secure this nation against those levels of projected losses and that effort will gain traction only through the work embodied in NEHRP's strategic plan."