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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation's Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space Reauthorization Hearing on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

June 29, 1999

On June 29, 1999 the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a reauthorization hearing on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). Witnesses included Michael J. Armstrong, Associate Director for Mitigation, FEMA; Dr. P. Patrick Leahy, Chief Geologist, U.S. Dept. of Interior, USGS; Dr. Eugene Wong, Assistant Director for Engineering, NSF; and Raymond Kammer, Director, NIST.

FEMA - Mr. Armstrong said earthquakes represent the largest potential for damage and reducing this loss potential is a matter of national concern. He discussed the various efforts of the four NEHRP agencies in mitigating earthquake hazards; research, technology development and education, and that NEHRP agencies are working collaboratively on these efforts. He discussed FEMA's two roles as part of NEHRP; being the lead agency, and applying the results of research and technology development into effective loss reduction measures at state and local levels of government. He also explained FEMA's strategic plan for supporting loss reduction activities, developed in concert with other NEHRP agencies. He said the strategic plan and cooperative relationship between the agencies moves mitigation efforts forward.

USGS - Dr. Leahy stated that applied Earth science is the USGS contribution to NEHRP. He noted that the USGS has three main roles under NEHRP; 1) earthquake hazard assessment (producing products for earthquake loss reduction); 2) monitoring and reporting on earthquakes (to provide timely and accurate notification of earthquakes); 3) supporting research (to carry out research on earthquake occurrence and effects). He noted under #1 above that the USGS is increasing its focus on urban areas like Puget Sound, Memphis and the San Francisco Bay area. He noted further that 1/4 of the funds requested for supporting research go to external grants.

NSF - Dr. Wong said NSF's participation in NEHRP is consistent with its policy of integrating NSF's activities with those of other agencies when it facilitates the achievement of national goals, in this case reducing deaths, injuries and property damage caused by earthquakes. He stated that the Foundation supports numerous individual investigators and small group projects, two university consortia, and four university-based earthquake centers that advance NEHRP goals. Other NEHRP-related activities include programs involving earthquake research facilities, post-earthquake investigations, international cooperation, and information dissemination. Dr. Wong concluded his remarks by focusing on three NSF activities, all of which involve efforts to ensure U.S. researchers have the requisite research facilities to conduct cutting-edge research well into the next century. The first is the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). The NSB gave its approval for NSF to include the cost of initiating the development of NEES in its FY 2000 budget request. NEES is estimated to cost nearly $82 million over the next five years. Recent NEHRP reauthorizing legislation passed by the House of Representatives, 414-3, H.R. 1184, authorizes NEES for the full five-year period. The second activity Dr. Wong discussed is a major facility under consideration by NSF called EarthScope. EarthScope is an integrated instrumentation and research effort that looks downward into crustal and mantle processes beneath the U.S. The major focus of the components of EarthScope is earthquake hazard. And, finally, Dr. Wong discussed the Incorporated Research Institutes in Seismology (IRIS).

NIST - Mr. Kammer discussed NIST's role in NEHRP, which is to conduct research to improve codes, practices, and standards that will allow buildings and lifelines to survive earthquakes. Mr. Kammer noted that NIST works very cooperatively with the other NEHRP agencies, and he highlighted some of NIST's recent work as part of NEHRP, describing successful partnerships.

Senator Frist's questions mainly focused on private sector involvement in establishing building codes and standards, the NEES project, and the National Earthquake Program (NEP). The Senator questioned the private sector's contribution to building codes, as well as technology transfer efforts. Mr. Kammer noted that there is a large infrastructure of voluntary standards organizations, and stated that NIST has enlisted their help. Mr. Armstong said there is a lot of interaction with the development community, and that by transferring knowledge, for example, of how buildings perform during seismic events to builders, better building codes and standards can be established to build smarter next time. Dr. Wong said NSF works with the community on engineering research, with new designs tested on shaketables and centrifuges.

Senator Frist then questioned Dr. Wong about leveraging existing public/private investments with respect to NEES -- specifically, will NEES use Internet 2 and NGI. Dr. Wong responded that it would, and that the project would cost more without it. He said he expects high-speed connections at all sites through the vBNS. The Senator also questioned Dr. Wong about benefits to NEES as a result of potential funding for IT2, as well as the number of universities involved in NEES. Dr. Wong noted that NEES would indirectly benefit from IT2 funding, and commented that he expects the number of universities involved to be large.

Senator Frist concluded his questioning by engaging witnesses' in a discussion of NEP. Mr. Armstrong said NEP compliments and is a logical extension of NEHRP, as it builds on the four NEHRP agencies to involve other federal agencies with research functions that are beneficial to earthquake preparedness. Dr. Leahy, on the other hand, said NEHRP is the core of earthquake mitigation and that this program should be encouraged rather than having parallel programs. Dr. Wong noted that the Army Corps of Engineers will play a major role in the NEES project, thus demonstrating that other government agencies outside the NEHRP group are participating in the spirit of the NEP.

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