Part IV: Prevention and Countermeasures

13 The Federal Government and Earthquakes

“ . . . the federal government shouldn’t be expected to bail people out of natural disasters because they made poor choices in where to live.”

Dennis Mileti, University of Colorado at Boulder

“… while earthquakes may be inevitable, earthquake disasters are not.”

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Strategic Plan, 2001-2005

1. Introduction

The study of earthquakes is such a large-scale problem, with so many implications, that it seems impossible for the national government not to become involved. The government faces two difficulties: (1) defining the earthquake problem and dedicating the national resources to deal with it, and (2) informing the public about what has been done in such a way that the public can become a partner in reducing the earthquake hazards we face. A third difficulty, in an era when some politicians are arguing for less and less government, is convincing the public a long time after the last earthquake that the government ought to be doing anything at all. Schools? Public safety? Health care? National defense? Earthquakes? Take your pick.

2. Historical Background

For most of recorded history, earthquakes were regarded as unpredictable calamities, acts of God—not subjects for government involvement except for dealing with the consequences. This began to change in 1891, when a killer earthquake devastated a large section of western Japan at the same time Japan was gearing up its economy to become an equal partner and competitor with Western countries. After the 1891 earthquake, the Japanese government authorized a long-term earthquake research program, including the mapping of active faults after a major earthquake, the deployment of seismographs (which had recently been invented), and the resurvey of benchmarks across active faults and along coastlines to look for crustal deformation. The Earthquake Research Institute was established at the University of Tokyo.

As a result, Japanese earthquake scientists became world leaders. Fusakichi Omori, at the time regarded as the world’s leading seismologist, participated in the investigation of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Kiyoo Wadati invented a magnitude scale before Charles Richter developed the scale that bears his name. Wadati also was the first to recognize earthquakes hundreds of miles beneath the Earth’s surface, outlining what would later be known as subduction zones. Two of the leading seismologists in the United States are transplants from Japan: Hiroo Kanamori of Caltech, and the late Keiiti Aki, who had recently retired from the University of Southern California.

In the early twentieth century, seismograph observatories were established at the University of California at Berkeley, Caltech, Victoria, Seattle, and other places around the world. The Jesuits were important players, with a seismograph at Gonzaga College in Spokane, Washington. Seismology developed primarily as an academic pursuit, with earthquake research intertwined with using earthquake waves to image and explore the internal structure of the Earth. At the time of the 1949 Puget Sound Earthquake, the University of Washington had only one recently hired faculty member in seismology who was in the process of building a new seismograph in the sub-basement of the geology building, using state funds. This young man suddenly found himself in the glare of the public eye, trying to answer questions of what, where, and why.

The first federal funding for earthquake-related research was to the U.S. Weather Bureau, which was given the assignment of collecting earthquake observations at its weather stations. The monthly weather review of the chief signal officer of the War Department was first published in 1872, and earthquake reports appeared as early as 1882. The Weather Bureau issued its own report on the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. In several countries around the world, including Japan, the national weather service still has a major responsibility in monitoring earthquakes.

Resurveying benchmarks in California by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (later the National Geodetic Survey) led to Professor Harry Reid’s elastic rebound theory for the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. Both the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Weather Bureau were part of the Department of Commerce, the only part of the federal government with a mandate to do anything at all about earthquakes. A triangulation survey by the Coast and Geodetic Survey authorized by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in the 1920s confirmed Reid’s observation that the area adjacent to the San Andreas Fault was continuing to build up strain, even as it had done before the 1906 earthquake.

Aside from that, the U.S. government stayed away from earthquakes. In large part, this was because earthquakes were perceived as a California problem, and California business and political leaders played down the threat from earthquakes because they were bad for business and particularly bad for the real estate speculation boom that was then going on. The investigation of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was paid for not by the government but by a private organization, the Carnegie Institution of Washington. The statements of the scientists, including those of Professor Omori, were taken out of context by the media to give the impression that the San Francisco disaster was a fire rather than an earthquake. This included a coverup: many more people died than the official documents claimed. Accordingly, no lessons were learned, and no attempts were made to strengthen buildings against earthquakes.

One positive outcome was the founding of the Seismological Society of America (SSA) in the San Francisco Bay Area, an organization that took an active role in earthquake safety. However, other SSA members were engaged in the investigation of the internal structure of the Earth, using seismic waves in the same way doctors were using X-rays to view the bone structure of the human body. These seismologists viewed the SSA as an association of academics and research scientists, and some of them were uncomfortable with the SSA taking a more political role in advocating earthquake safety.

This continued through the Roaring Twenties, during which business leaders downplayed an earthquake that heavily damaged the resort city of Santa Barbara in 1925. However, by this time, scientists were better organized, and the first building codes were enacted by the cities of Santa Barbara and Palo Alto, the latter city the home of Stanford University, the site of much advocacy of earthquake preparedness. In 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake trashed many school buildings in the Los Angeles area, leading to state legislation mandating earthquake standards for school buildings. Still, the federal government stood on the sidelines.

This changed dramatically when the Soviets successfully tested nuclear weapons following World War II. Federal funding for seismology was not due to any concerns about earthquake hazards, but was driven by the Cold War. The United States and its NATO allies wanted to monitor Soviet (and later, Chinese) underground nuclear tests using seismographs. Seismologists showed that it was possible to distinguish between seismograms written by earthquakes and seismograms resulting from nuclear explosions, and also to determine the size and location of an underground nuclear test, just as seismologists are able to determine the magnitude and location of an earthquake.

By the early 1960s, the United States, in cooperation with other Western countries, had established a worldwide seismograph network (WWSSN), to monitor the testing of nuclear weapons, particularly after the signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. The WWSSN had a spectacular, serendipitous scientific payoff. By allowing the world’s earthquakes to be located much more accurately than before, the network provided evidence that these earthquakes follow narrow bands that were found to be the boundaries of great tectonic plates (Chapter 2, Figure 2-5). By 1966, the plate tectonics revolution had overturned the prevailing view of how the Earth works, and seismology, because of the WWSSN, had made a major contribution.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had carried out detailed investigations of major earthquakes in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1886 and in Alaska in 1899, and continued with USGS scientists participating in investigations of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake near Yellowstone Park. A team of seismologists had been assembled by the USGS in Denver to monitor the nuclear test ban. These seismologists were moved to Menlo Park, California, where they joined a team of geologists studying the great 1964 Alaska Earthquake. In carrying out these studies, the USGS was following in the tradition of the Geological Survey of India, which had studied in detail great Himalayan earthquakes in 1897, 1905, and 1934. Involvement of the USGS continued and accelerated following earthquakes in California in 1968 and 1971.

However, there was still no federal mandate for the USGS to take over the investigation of earthquakes. The only federal agency with earthquake responsibilities was still the Department of Commerce through the Weather Bureau and the Coast and Geodetic Survey. In 1947, the Coast and Geodetic Survey asked California structural engineers for advice in setting up strong-motion seismographs, and in designing buildings to be more resistant to earthquake shaking (as well as a nuclear explosion). The engineers formed an Advisory Committee on Engineering Seismology, which by 1949 became the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), which became a link between the SSA and professional engineering organizations. This was important because of an ongoing debate among structural engineers between those favoring more earthquake-resistant construction and those concerned about the increased costs of those measures.

Clearly, the Department of Commerce intended to keep its mandate to study earthquakes, particularly after the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake and the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake in a suburb of Los Angeles. USGS scientists had a strong interest in these earthquakes, but they could fund investigations only out of their own limited budgets, which commonly were based on the search for increased mineral resources. The Department of Commerce and the USGS issued separate government reports on each of these earthquakes.

3. The National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP)

Two earthquakes in 1975 strongly affected the decision to increase the involvement of the federal government in earthquake studies. The first was the Haicheng, China, Earthquake in February 1975, which had been predicted by the Chinese early enough to reduce greatly the loss of life, although it was not recognized at the time that the Haicheng earthquake was part of an earthquake swarm (see Chapter 7). The second was an earthquake in August 1975, close to the Oroville Dam, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada at the headwaters of the California Aqueduct. That earthquake, together with large earthquakes in China in 1962, Greece in 1966, and India in 1967—all of which had caused great loss of life—suggested that people can actually cause earthquakes by manipulating the water level of reservoirs and by the artificial pumping of fluids down boreholes for wastewater disposal or for improved recovery of oil. The Oroville earthquake finally laid to rest the view that earthquakes are acts of God in which humans play no role. The general public and, indeed, many people in the scientific community came to believe that earthquakes could be predicted and, by understanding the fluid pressures accompanying filling of reservoirs and pumping of fluids into or from wells, might even be controlled.

Several USGS geophysicists undertook a project to re-level highway markers throughout southern California, including highways crossing the San Andreas Fault. These studies suggested that the Palmdale area, in the Mojave Desert close to the San Andreas Fault, was undergoing rapid uplift. Was this part of the fault, last ruptured in 1857, about to rupture again? The “Palmdale Bulge” was brought to the attention of Frank Press, the presidential science advisor to President Gerald Ford. This resulted in a special appropriation to the USGS to study the Palmdale Bulge and opened the door for a larger USGS role in earthquake studies. The USGS, in turn, provided research funds for university scientists, including myself, to participate in this study, thereby enlarging the earthquake research talent pool nationwide.

The battle between the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the USGS over control of federal research dollars came to an end after the Geodetic Survey was taken over by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The first priority for NOAA was the sea, and budget cuts led NOAA to give up the fight in favor of the USGS.

This led to passage of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977 (Public Law 95-124), which directed the president to establish a National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP, pronounced “Neehurp”). Among the objectives written into the law were (1) retrofitting existing buildings, especially critical facilities such as nuclear power plants, dams, hospitals, schools, public utilities, and high-occupancy buildings; (2) designing a system for predicting earthquakes and for identifying, evaluating, and characterizing seismic hazards; (3) upgrading building codes and developing land-use policies to consider seismic risk; (4) disseminating warnings of an earthquake, and organizing emergency services after an earthquake; (5) educating the public, including state and local officials, about the earthquake threat, including the identification of locations and buildings that are particularly susceptible to earthquakes; (6) focusing existing scientific and engineering knowledge to mitigate earthquake hazards, and considering the social, economic, legal, and political implications of earthquake prediction; and (7) developing basic and applied research leading to a better understanding of control or modification of earthquakes.

Objective (6) contains a word, mitigate, which might be unfamiliar to many, but which appears so often in public statements as well as legislation that a definition should be presented here. To mitigate means to moderate, to make milder or less severe. The earthquake program thus does not take on the job of eliminating the earthquake threat, but rather of moderating the problem—an important distinction.

Ironically, three of the main arguments for establishing NEHRP did not prove to be worthwhile avenues of investigation. As discussed in Chapter 7, earthquake prediction is as far away from being achieved today as it was in 1977. Earthquake control is no longer taken seriously, as discussed further below. Finally, the Palmdale Bulge was re-analyzed, and it was found that most of the uplift signal was an artifact of survey error. Subsequent investigations using much more sophisticated space geodesy did not confirm the existence of a bulge.

Although the 1977 law included several non-research objectives such as public education and upgrading of building codes, the legislation was primarily pointed toward research. The bill authorized new appropriations for two agencies, the USGS and the National Science Foundation, to conduct or to fund earthquake-related research through grants and contracts to universities and other non-governmental organizations. The legislation did not indicate how the non-research objectives were to be implemented. Instead, the president was directed to develop a plan for implementation. Furthermore, the legislation left unclear which agency was in charge.

The president’s implementation plan, sent to Congress in 1978, gave much of the responsibility for implementation of Public Law 95-124 to a lead agency, but, as in the law itself, the lead agency was not specified. A multi-agency task force was given the responsibility to develop design standards for federal projects. In the following year, Executive Order 12148, dated July 20, 1979, designated the newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as the lead agency. This decision was included in 1980 in the first reauthorization legislation for the earthquake program. This legislation included a fourth agency, the National Bureau of Standards, later to be renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as an integral—although small—part of NEHRP. The Department of Commerce had once been the only federal agency with a mandate to study earthquakes, but under NEHRP, NIST was the only part of the Department of Commerce to retain its federal mandate, and its role at that time was relatively small. However, NIST is now the lead agency for NEHRP, with an increased budget accompanied by increased responsibilities.

NEHRP was reauthorized five more times without significant change in the scope of the program. But by 1990 it was clear that Congress intended to make some changes. During the 1980s, it became apparent that the goal of earthquake prediction was not going to be achieved in the immediate future, as described in Chapter 7. The 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake struck Los Angeles and the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area; neither had been predicted. Furthermore, as indicated in the Senate report accompanying the 1990 reauthorization bill, the application of NEHRP research findings to earthquake preparedness was considered slow and inadequate. The efforts of the four agencies were perceived as uncoordinated and unfocused. Finally, the goal of earthquake control was criticized as unrealistic and unattainable in the near future.

A mental exercise illustrates the problems facing the goal of earthquake control. An experiment in 1969 had shown that small earthquakes in an oil field at Rangely, Colorado could be turned on and off by increasing the amount of water injected into or withdrawn from the oil field. When water was withdrawn, earthquake activity decreased. The added water pressure along existing faults in the oil field increased fluid pressure in the fault zones and caused them to move, producing small earthquakes. As in the case of filling the reservoir behind Oroville Dam, human activity was shown to have an effect on earthquakes.

The suggestion was then made: could this be done on a larger scale at a major fault, where the results could mitigate the earthquake hazard? Specifically, could it be done for the San Andreas Fault? The idea was simple: drill several very deep boreholes along the thinly populated 1857 rupture zone of the San Andreas Fault in central California and inject water, thereby weakening the fault. The idea was to weaken the fault enough to trigger a smaller earthquake of, say, M 6.5 to M 7 rather than wait for another earthquake as large as the 1857 rupture, which was M 7.9. The smaller earthquake, or series of smaller earthquakes, would cause much less damage than a repeat of the 1857 earthquake. It would be the earthquake equivalent of a controlled burn to alleviate hazard from forest fires.

There are two problems with this idea. First, the cost of drilling the holes for injection of water would be exorbitantly high—many millions of dollars to inject water deep enough to have an influence on the earthquake source ten miles or more beneath the surface. Second, what would be the legal implications of a triggered earthquake? What is the legal recourse for a person whose home or business is severely damaged in a triggered M 7 earthquake as opposed to the next M 7.9 earthquake, which might not have struck during his/her lifetime? What about the possibility of people being killed during the smaller event? Questions such as these led to the conclusion that earthquake control was not attainable in the near future, at least not by injecting fluids into a major, active fault zone. Returning to the forest-fire analogy: a controlled burn in the spring of 2000 went out of control and did severe damage to the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. The legal fallout from that was, and is, sobering.

The 1990 reauthorization bill passed by Congress eliminated some references to earthquake prediction and control, and it expanded efforts in public education and in research on lifelines, earthquake insurance, and land-use policy. It marked the beginning of the shift from a predominantly research program toward a broader-based program including implementation and outreach. The role of FEMA as lead agency was clarified, including presentation of program budgets, reports to Congress, an education program, and block grants to states. New federal buildings were required to have seismic safety regulations, and seismic standards were established for existing federal buildings.

The amount allocated for NEHRP was less than $60 million in fiscal year (FY) 1978 and around $100 million in FY 1994. In terms of constant 1978 dollars, the program received less money in 1994 than it did at its start-up in 1978. This problem has continued to the present day, exacerbated by the political conflicts in Congress over the national debt, to which one response was the budget sequester. In addition, there was commonly a disparity between the amount authorized and the amount actually appropriated by Congress. This disparity was greatest in FY 1979 and 1980, and again in FY 1992 and 1993, and continues to the present day. The effect of individual earthquakes was apparent. The only boost in constant dollars came in 1990 after the Loma Prieta “World Series” Earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the only time in the past ten years that appropriations were the same as authorization was after the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. On the other hand, the Landers Earthquake, which struck a thinly populated area in the Mojave Desert of California in 1992, had no impact on funding, even though it was larger than either the Loma Prieta Earthquake or the Northridge Earthquake.

The lesson here is that politicians respond to an immediate crisis, but they have short memories for solving the problem in the long haul—particularly after the last earthquake fades into memory. It is again a difference in the perception of time, as discussed in Chapter 1. To an Earth scientist, the 1987, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1999, and 2003 California earthquakes and the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake are part of a continuum, a response to the slow but inexorable movement of tectonic plates. To a public official, and indeed to the public at large, each earthquake is an instant calamity that must be dealt with in the short term, without serious consideration for when and where the next earthquake will strike.

We now consider the role of individual federal agencies, first those officially part of NEHRP, and then other agencies that play an important role in earthquake research but are not an official part of NEHRP.

4. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had its beginnings in 1950 with the establishment of the Federal Civil Defense Administration, a response to the growing nuclear threat from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. FEMA has two roles within NEHRP: (1) leading and coordinating NEHRP, a responsibility reassigned to NIST in 2005, and (2) implementing mitigation measures. In the early years of its involvement in the program, it was mainly a coordinator rather than a leader, resulting in criticism in congressional hearings before the 1990 and 1994 reauthorization bill. By 1994, FEMA’s leadership responsibilities included (1) preparation of NEHRP plans and reports to Congress, (2) assessment of user needs, (3) support of earthquake professional organizations, (4) arranging interagency coordination meetings, (5) support of problem-focused studies, and (6) outreach programs, especially for small businesses.

In its implementation role, FEMA contributes to developing standards in new construction and retrofits, and to applying engineering design knowledge to upgrading building codes. FEMA has provided grants to state governments and to multi-state consortia to support hazard mitigation, including not only earthquakes but floods, wildfires, hurricanes, and other disasters. Activities include education, outreach, adoption of building codes, and training exercises. In the Northwest, these activities are coordinated by the FEMA Region X office in Bothell, Washington; in California, it is done by the Region IX office in Oakland.

FEMA (and later NIST) played the lead role in preparing the federal government for national emergencies. Public Law 93-288 established a Federal Response Plan to coordinate federal assistance in a large-scale disaster in which the resources of participating federal agencies would be necessary. The Federal Response Plan outlines the responsibilities, chain of command, and sequence of events for federal and local authorities to deal with the emergency.

When the president declares an area struck by an earthquake to be a major disaster area, FEMA swings into action. A coordinating officer is appointed, who sets up a disaster field office to manage the response and recovery, including rescue and small loans and grants to businesses or individuals. The disaster field office coordinates response from other federal agencies, the state emergency services agency, and the Red Cross. The emergency response team deals with twelve support functions: transportation, communications, public works/engineering, firefighting, information and planning, mass care, resource support, health/medical services, urban search and rescue, hazardous materials, food, and energy.

In most cases, the governor of a state requests that the president declare a disaster area, unless the disaster affects mainly federal property, as was the case in the Oklahoma City bombing. The disaster declaration varies from one disaster to the next. So far, in the presidential declarations that have been issued in the past few years, this arrangement has worked reasonably well. However, the system has yet to be tested by an earthquake as large as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake or a M 9 subduction-zone earthquake.

In 1997, FEMA started Project Impact, a plan to build disaster-resistant communities. The strategy was to build partnerships with local government, private companies, and individuals to prepare a community for a disaster before it happens, rather than simply picking up the pieces afterwards. With assistance from FEMA, communities do their own planning rather than accept a plan dictated by Washington. Communities submitted proposals to FEMA for support.

Seattle was one of the first communities selected, starting with a grant of $1 million in 1998. The hazards selected were primarily earthquakes and landslides. The focus was on retrofitting homes and schools and on hazard mapping, including those parts of the city with steep slopes that might be more vulnerable to landslides. The plan emphasized public education and outreach, so that homeowners and school board members could learn what they needed to do; in the case of schools, teams of volunteers helped make classrooms safer against earthquakes. Information about retrofitting was made available to surrounding communities as well as to businesses. Bellevue, across Lake Washington from Seattle, has been very proactive even though it was not a recipient of Project Impact funding.

Project Impact was given credit for improving Seattle’s response to the Nisqually Earthquake, greatly reducing losses to homes and schools. However, in a twist of fate, the earthquake struck on the same day that Vice President Dick Cheney was announcing on CNN that Project Impact was being terminated! In response, Senator Patty Murray called CNN and stated, “I’m shocked and outraged. I have been on the ground here in the Pacific Northwest for the last three days examining the aftermath of this earthquake, and there is a stark contrast between the damage done to communities that have prepared for natural disasters and those that have not.”

In fairness, Project Impact was not intended to be a permanent source of funding for any one community. However, as a result of the Nisqually Earthquake, additional funds were provided, although the emphasis shifted to planning as a result of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. Funds provided under Project Impact required communities to have a FEMA-approved mitigation plan in place by November 1, 2004. The first jurisdiction in the United States to develop a FEMA-approved plan was Clackamas County, Oregon, part of the Portland metropolitan area and a former recipient of Project Impact funds.

In 1997, FEMA started an initiative called HAZUS (Hazards United States), under a cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS). HAZUS uses a software program (newest version: HAZUS MH 2.2, compatible with Windows 7 and 8) to map building inventories, soil conditions, known faults, and lifelines to estimate economic losses and casualties from a disaster. Technical assistance is available at HAZUS was used for a study of the Portland, Oregon, and Reno-Carson City, Nevada, metropolitan areas. It has expanded nationwide, building from local census tract data. It requires ArcGIS and ArcView. MH stands for Multi-Hazards, including floods, hurricanes, coastal surges, and earthquakes. Its website is

FEMA’s programs represent a shift in focus from hazard—where the faults are, how big the earthquakes will be on these faults, and how the ground will respond—to risk—what the losses will be on a future earthquake. For example, the 1992 Landers Earthquake (M 7.3) in the Mojave Desert was a big hazard but did not represent a big risk because of the low population in the affected area. On the other hand, the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake (M 5.9) was a much smaller hazard but a larger risk because it struck in the middle of Los Angeles.

FEMA has estimated that projected average annual earthquake losses in Washington and Oregon would be almost $400 million, the largest amount outside of California and nearly one-tenth of the total for the United States. Washington ranks second in the U.S. with $228 million, and Oregon is third with $167 million, twice as high as the next state, which is New York. Nearly half of Washington’s annual losses are in Seattle, and half of Oregon’s losses are in Portland, reflecting the large building inventory in those cities. On the other hand, the highest per capita annual losses are in the coastal counties of the Northwest, reflecting their proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

These losses include capital losses, that is, repair and replacement costs for structural and nonstructural components, including building contents and inventory, and losses of income due to business interruption. The loss estimates take into account the quality of building construction. For example, there are many buildings in Seattle and King County that predate modern building codes that require them to be bolted to their foundation. The projected average annual losses for a region can be compared to the annual increase in construction costs due to higher earthquake standards in building codes; this has led to controversy in the St. Louis-Memphis area.

In 2003, FEMA released HAZUS-MH to assist HAZUS users in employing the relatively sophisticated loss-estimation software. FEMA has established a program administered through the private sector to provide training and technical assistance to new HAZUS users. For information about training courses, go to

As a response to the war on terrorism, FEMA became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), adding human-made disasters (terrorist attacks) to natural disasters. This move has not been without its critics. At a Congressional hearing on May 8, 2003, Robert Olson, former executive director of the California Seismic Safety Commission, stated, “How the leadership responsibility will be performed within the new and huge DHS is of some concern to the earthquake community.” Members of Congress also expressed concern that the shift to DHS might result in loss of visibility for NEHRP.

However, Anthony Lowe, director of the mitigation division of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate of DHS, defended the transfer and asked for a chance to show that it would lead to “an unprecedented opportunity” for the earthquake program, in part “because of the ability of earthquake design to address man-made intrusions.”

In September 2003, Hurricane Isabel tested the new organization. While the hurricane was still offshore, DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, himself a former governor, appeared on TV to explain the government’s plans. The response was efficient, including the use of volunteers, although there were long lines of people awaiting assistance, similar to those after the Northridge Earthquake. One FEMA staff member told me, “It works the same way as before. We just have another boss.” On the other hand, the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy was criticized as uncoordinated and politicized, and the coordination between the federal government and the states of Louisiana, New York, and New Jersey has not been a model of efficiency.

5. U.S. Geological Survey

The USGS receives nearly half of NEHRP funding. Funds are used to pursue four goals: (1) understanding what happens at the earthquake source, (2) determining the potential for future earthquakes, (3) predicting the effects of earthquakes, and (4) developing applications for earthquake research results. Research ranges from fundamental earthquake processes to expected ground motions to building codes.

More than two-thirds of NEHRP funding is spent internally to support USGS scientists in regional programs, laboratory and field studies, national hazard assessment programs, and the operation of seismic networks, including the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network operated with the University of Washington, the Northern California network operated with the University of California at Berkeley, and the Great Basin network operated with the University of Nevada-Reno. The remainder is spent on grants to universities, consulting firms, and state agencies, and partial support of the Southern California Earthquake Center. The external grants program is based on objectives established within the USGS with advice from outside. Grant proposals must address one or more of these objectives, which may change from year to year. The external grants program involves the best minds in the country, not just those of government scientists, to focus on earthquake hazard mitigation.

Much of the geographic focus has been on California. But starting in the mid-1980s, the USGS began a series of focused studies in urban areas at seismic risk, starting with the Salt Lake City urban corridor. After the recognition that the Pacific Northwest faced a major seismic threat, based largely on the research of USGS scientists, the Puget Sound-Portland metropolitan region was selected for a focused program that is still in progress. The results of this program were summarized in the 1990s in the two-volume USGS Professional Paper 1560, Assessing Earthquake Hazards and Reducing Risk in the Pacific Northwest. However, the San Francisco Bay Area and metropolitan Los Angeles continue to receive major research emphasis.

The Pacific Northwest program is managed from a USGS office in Seattle at the University of Washington directed by Craig Weaver; other USGS scientists working on Pacific Northwest problems are stationed in Vancouver, Washington (Cascade Volcano Observatory), Menlo Park, California, Denver, Colorado, and Reston, Virginia.

Although this program has worked amazingly well over the past two decades, it nearly ran off track in 1995–96 as a result of the Contract with America from the new Republican majority in Congress. One of the objectives of the Contract was to eliminate several government agencies, and the USGS was on the hit list. As the USGS fought for its existence and tried to save the jobs of permanent staff members, the external-grants program of NEHRP suddenly found itself eliminated by a committee in the House of Representatives. The program was later restored, thanks to assistance from Senators Mark Hatfield (R., Oregon), Slade Gorton (R., Washington), and Barbara Boxer (D., California). But before grants could be awarded, the government was temporarily shut down in early 1996, and the Department of the Interior, which includes the USGS, was forced to operate by continuing resolutions of the Congress for most of FY 1996 at significantly lower-than-normal appropriations. A year of earthquake research was lost.

A similar problem emerged in the fall of 2013, when disagreements between Congress and President Obama caused the government to shut down for sixteen days. Again, work came to a halt, and the long-term effects of that shutdown are still unclear.

The USGS assisted in organizing the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW), an organization discussed in the following chapter. The USGS also operates the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, to locate damaging earthquakes around the world as rapidly as possible and to collect and distribute seismic information for earthquake research.

Congress has given the USGS the job of developing a real-time alert system, and, in addition, the USGS is developing an Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) with new state-of-the-art instruments for better location and characterization of earthquakes, including the effect of earthquakes on buildings and structures. A related program is EarthScope, in which a band of seismometers was begun on the West Coast and subsequently expanded eastward across the country. This program has been managed by individual universities, starting with Oregon State University at its inception. Also under USGS direction is a project called Did You Feel It? in which people feeling an earthquake log onto a website and record their observations. Based on these observations, a seismic intensity map is published.. The Did You Feel It? map for the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001 is shown as Figure 3-16.

6. National Science Foundation (NSF)

The National Science Foundation (NSF) receives about 30 percent of NEHRP funding, divided into two areas, administered by two directorates within NSF. The largest amount goes to earthquake engineering, including direct grants to individual investigators. Part of the budget goes to three earthquake-engineering research centers in New York (established in 1986), Illinois, and California (both established in 1997). The Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) in Richmond, California is operated by the University of California at Berkeley, one of the leading institutions in the world for earthquake engineering research.

The George E. Brown, Jr., Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), headquartered at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, is a new NSF program to test the response of buildings to earthquakes. Ideally one would subject a building to actual shaking, and commonly this is done by putting it on a foundation that shakes, but the building size is limited. NEES does it by computer simulation. More information is available at

Part of the budget of the engineering research centers comes from NSF, but an equal amount is expected to come from other sources. The Buffalo, New York, center has received money from the Federal Highway Administration for research into the seismic vulnerability of the national highway system. Other research includes geotechnical engineering studies of liquefaction, tsunamis, and soil response to earthquakes, and the response of structures to ground motion. The NEES center in the Pacific Northwest is located at Oregon State University and includes the O.H. Hinsdale Tsunami Wave Tank Laboratory, one of the largest tsunami wave tanks in the world, where experiments are conducted on the effects of tsunami waves on buildings. A category called earthquake systems integration includes research in the behavioral and social sciences and in planning, including code enforcement and how to decide whether to demolish or repair a building.

The directorate of NSF that includes the geosciences funds grants to individual scientists and to three university consortia—the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), the Southern California Earthquake Center (which also receives support from the USGS), and the University Navstar Consortium (UNAVCO), which provides technical assistance and equipment for geodetic studies of crustal deformation using GPS. IRIS is building a global network of state-of-the-art digital seismographs. IRIS provides NEHRP with assessments of the frequency of earthquakes worldwide and their expected ground motion. It is developing a program to deploy seismographs in the field immediately after a large earthquake or volcanic event. The Data Management Center of IRIS is housed in Seattle. IRIS also prepares summaries (teachable moments) of major earthquakes worldwide, using the seismograph at the University of Portland operated by Robert Butler and videos prepared by Jenda Johnson and Robert Butler.

Direct grants from NSF to individual investigators include research into the study of earthquake sources, of active faults and paleoseismology, and of shallow crustal seismicity. In FY 1990, instrument-based studies in seismology and geodesy received the bulk of the funding.

Although the Ocean Sciences Directorate in NSF has no focused program in earthquake studies, projects attached to oceanographic cruises with other primary objectives have made important discoveries, including a set of seafloor faults that cut across the Cascadia Subduction Zone, discovered in an NSF-sponsored cruise in preparation for a research drilling program off Cascadia in 1992. A set of seismic-reflection profiles, also preparatory to the drilling project, imaged the plate-boundary fault directly (cf. Figures 4-2, 4-4). Tube worm and clam communities in the vicinity of the Cascadia Subduction Zone were discovered on a cruise to work out the migration of fluids in subduction zones; those fluids were found to travel along active faults. The new Integrated Ocean Drilling Program includes major research on subduction zone earthquakes, including a project to acquire cores within the subduction-zone fault itself. The Japanese coring vessel Chikyu has sampled the source fault of the March 2011 Tohoku-oki Earthquake.

7. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the old National Bureau of Standards and part of the Department of Commerce, had received the least amount of funding of the four agencies comprising NEHRP. Its main role had been in applied engineering research and in code development. Its initial budget for earthquake research was less than $500,000 per year and stood at $1.9 million. In FY 1994, it received a supplemental appropriation to respond to the Northridge Earthquake, resulting in a budget of $3.6 million. The 1990 reauthorization directed NIST to carry out “research and development to improve building codes and standards and practices for structures and lifelines.”

In 2004, NEHRP was reorganized; NIST was made the lead agency and was directed to establish the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazard Reduction (ACEHR), which conducts research in earthquake engineering as well as coordinating the activities of the other three agencies. Most of the members of this committee are not federal employees.

8. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The agencies discussed in this section are not part of NEHRP. Yet two of them contribute significantly to earthquake research because of their technological focus on the sea (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA) and space (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA). There are, of course, many informal working relationships between these agencies and NEHRP, but the lack of formal structure can lead to a lack of focus. Nonetheless, both NOAA and NASA have managed to make critical contributions to an understanding of earthquakes and earthquake-hazard mitigation.

NOAA is part of the Department of Commerce, which until the early 1970s was the only government department, through the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the National Weather Bureau, with a federal mandate to study earthquakes. After a battle with the USGS for primacy in earthquake funding, the Department of Commerce withdrew from the field in the early 1970s, and the USGS took over, as discussed earlier in this chapter. This might have been a reason NOAA was excluded from NEHRP in 1977.

NOAA is the principal federal agency responsible for tsunami hazards (see Chapter 9). Earthquake and tsunami data are distributed through its National Geophysical Data Center in Colorado. NOAA also provides real-time tsunami warnings for the United States and its territories through tsunami warning centers in Alaska and Hawaii (described in Chapter 9). After a tsunami generated by the 1992 Cape Mendocino Earthquake was detected on the northern California coast, Congress gave NOAA additional funds and responsibilities and established the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, designed to reduce risks from tsunamis. NOAA is the lead federal agency in this initiative, with participation by FEMA, USGS, and NSF (Chapter 9).

The U.S. Navy has declassified arrays of hydrophones (called SOSUS) on the sea floor that were used during the Cold War to monitor military ship traffic in the oceans and has allowed these hydrophones to be used by NOAA. These hydrophones, in addition to recording ship engine noise and whale calls, monitor earthquake waves transmitted directly through water, called T-phase waves. These waves locate earthquakes on the sea floor with much higher accuracy and to a much lower magnitude threshold than is possible from land-based seismographs. Furthermore, NOAA has located many times the number of earthquakes on the deep ocean floor than the land-based seismograph network.

Just as the USGS is responsible for topographic mapping on land, NOAA is responsible for mapping the topography (orbathymetry) of the sea floor using a ship-borne mapping device called SeaBeam. Earlier mapping techniques relied on individual soundings of water depth, followed later by profiles of the sea floor by depth recorders mounted in the hulls of passing ships. SeaBeam and similar technologies developed by the British, French, and Japanese map a swath of sea floor based on the echoes of sounds transmitted from several locations mounted in the ship’s hull. NOAA swath bathymetry results in topographic maps of the sea bottom comparable in accuracy to topographic maps of dry land constructed by the USGS.

Once thought to be a barren, featureless landscape, the sea floor is now known to be marked by canyons, great faults, volcanoes, landslides, and active folds (Figures 2-4, 4-4, and 8-14). Tectonic features of the deep ocean floor are not altered by erosion to the degree that land structures are. The bathymetry is recorded digitally so that it can be displayed as a computer model in which the water has been stripped away, as shown in Figures 4-4 and the offshore part of Figure 8-14. (Similarly, the USGS has digitized its land topographic maps permitting a new and revealing perspective on the tectonic forces that produce the topography above sea level, as illustrated in Figures 4-5, 6-11, 6-24, 6-25, and the onshore portion of Figure 8-14.) SeaBeam bathymetry directs submersibles with observers and remote-controlled robotic vehicles to observe and map faults on the sea floor. An active research program involving submersibles, funded by NOAA’s National Undersea Research Program (NURP), has led to new detailed information on the Cascadia Subduction Zone and active faults and folds on the continental shelf and slope.

Because NOAA is not part of NEHRP, programs such as NURP earthquake hazards research and SeaBeam bathymetric mapping are at risk from budget cutters because except for tsunamis, earthquake hazard research is not a primary mission of NOAA.

9. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

When LANDSAT cameras returned images of the Earth from space several decades ago, it changed our perspective forever. Faults such as the San Andreas were viewed in unprecedented clarity, and other, previously unknown earthquake-producing structures were also revealed. The Geodynamics Program at NASA was developed to take advantage of the new space platforms as a means to learn about the Earth, including plate tectonics, mineral resources, and an understanding of earthquakes. These activities are now coordinated in a program called Earth Systems Enterprise, managed by the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.

In December 1999, NASA launched a satellite named Terra, the Earth Observing System, to map the Earth in real time, tracking changes on the Earth’s surface observed from space. In February 2000, the space shuttle Endeavour conducted an eleven-day radar mapping survey of the Earth, resulting in much more accurate topographic maps than had been available previously.

The greatest impact NASA has had on earthquake research has been in the measurement of crustal strain from space (described in Chapter 3). This includes the measurement of the relative motion of radio telescopes based on measuring signals from quasars in outer space, the measurement of strain through the Global Positioning System based on signals from NAVSTAR satellites, and the direct measurement of displacement during an earthquake based on radar interferometry. Much of this work is coordinated through NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Radar interferometry revealed an area of rising crust west of the South Sister volcano in Oregon, a suggestion that magma was moving upward beneath the Earth’s surface. Three satellites provide radar data, two from Europe and one from Canada.

10. Other Federal Agencies

Earthquake research by other non-NEHRP agencies principally involves the earthquake safety of those critical facilities that are their responsibility. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the successor to the Atomic Energy Commission of the 1960s, has sponsored research into earthquake hazards related to the safety of nuclear power plants. With a nuclear power plant at St. Helens, Oregon (since shut down) and unsuccessful efforts to build plants at Satsop, Washington, east of Aberdeen, and in the Skagit Valley of Washington, the NRC was the first federal agency to take a direct interest in evaluating the earthquake hazard of the Pacific Northwest, in the 1970s. The Department of Energy (DOE) has also been involved in the earthquake safety of nuclear power plants as well as the Yucca Mountain site proposed for nuclear waste disposal and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, where cleanup operations are underway.

Dams are critical facilities as well, and this has resulted in research by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of Interior. These agencies, together with the Veterans Administration, have been responsible for installing instruments to measure strong ground motion. The Department of Defense has funded investigations through the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which provides some support for IRIS and other seismic monitoring for nuclear test ban compliance.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides disaster relief loans to qualifying small businesses. After the Northridge Earthquake, the average SBA loan for repair of property damage was $66,100 and the average loan for economic recovery was $34,400.

11. The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network

Although this network is operated by the University of Washington, it is discussed in this chapter because most of its funding comes from the federal government. A smoked-paper seismograph was installed in Science Hall on the University of Washington campus in 1906, the first seismograph in either Washington or Oregon. Various faculty members in the Department of Geology transmitted earthquake information to the federal government (Weather Service). The seismograph was moved, along with the rest of the Department of Geology, to Johnson Hall in 1930.

In 1948, a Finnish seismologist, Eijo Vesanen, was hired to upgrade the seismograph; he was still building the new seismograph when the Puget Sound Earthquake struck in 1949. Vesanen decided to return to Finland, and he was replaced by Frank Neumann, the recently retired chief of the Seismology Branch of the Coast and Geodetic Survey. Neumann recognized that the Johnson Hall site on glacial sediments was a poor substitute for a site on bedrock, and in 1958, using university funds, he established bedrock sites at Longmire, in Mount Rainier National Park, and Tumwater, near Olympia.

When the national decision was made to establish the WWSSN network of seismograph stations to monitor nuclear testing by the Soviet Union, Neumann was successful in getting a grant from the Coast and Geodetic Survey to establish a WWSSN station at Longmire. The new station began functioning in 1962, with Park Service personnel changing the records and mailing them weekly to the Department of Geology. However, the grant required that the responsible seismologist hold a PhD degree, which Neumann did not have. Norm Rasmussen, with a MS in geology, was hired as a technician until a permanent replacement for Neumann could be found.

Bob Crosson arrived in 1966 as the university was applying successfully to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a Science Development Grant. The seismology part of this grant went to the newly established geophysics program. Funding became available in the late 1960s, and Crosson began to build the network, obtaining additional grants from NSF to do so. By the end of 1970, there were five stations transmitting data electronically to the University of Washington; by the end of 1979, there were twenty-three stations in western Washington. The first scientific paper describing the seismicity of western Washington based on network data was published by Crosson in 1972.

The NSF science development grant was not intended to be a permanent source of funding for the network. After the USGS took over responsibility for earthquakes from the Department of Commerce, funding the Washington network shifted to USGS, along with other networks in the western United States. A separate USGS network at Hanford Nuclear Reservation began locating earthquakes in 1970; in 1975, this network began transmitting data directly to the University of Washington, as did the Jesuit station at Gonzaga University. Another network was set up around Mt. St. Helens after it erupted in 1980; this network was also folded into the Washington network at Seattle. The eastern Washington and western Washington networks were merged in the 1980s.

In Oregon, a seismograph station was built at Corvallis in 1950. This was replaced by a WWSSN station in 1962 that is now part of the IRIS network. The University of Oregon established several stations in the early 1990s. At the present time, Oregon and Washington are covered by the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network, although station density in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington is low.

12. Role of the Canadian Government

The government of Canada, through the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), which is part of the Department of Natural Resources Canada, is responsible for virtually all earthquake monitoring in Canada as well as the collecting and archiving of earthquake data, routine analysis of data, and provision of earthquake information to the public. The GSC is responsible for earthquake research and the production of earthquake hazard maps for use in the National Building Code.

The first seismograph (one of the first in the world) was built in Victoria in 1898, recording its first earthquake eight days later. This seismograph was operated by Francis Denison of the Meteorological Service of Canada, who recorded and described the M 7 earthquake on December 6, 1918 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Denison built and installed additional seismographs. In 1939, responsibility for seismograph stations was transferred to the federal Department of Mines and Resources. An earthquake of M 7.3 on June 23, 1946 and Canada’s largest historical earthquake of M 8.1 off the Queen Charlotte Islands in 1949 led to the transfer of seismologist W. G. Milne from Ottawa to the west coast. Milne established a seismograph network and began publishing catalogues of earthquakes. His work led to Canada’s first seismic zoning map, incorporated into the National Building Code in 1970.

In 1975, digital recording of seismic data began, with signals telemetered to the Victoria Geophysical Observatory. Studies of crustal deformation on Vancouver Island began at about that time, and the number of strong-motion accelerographs in Canada increased to forty-five, with twenty-six in western Canada. In 1976, the Pacific Geoscience Centre (PGC) was established, joining earth scientists with the Victoria Geophysical Observatory and the west coast marine geology unit of the Geological Survey of Canada. The PGC was moved to its present site in Sidney, north of Victoria, in 1978.

Earthquake research in centered in the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC), with offices in Ottawa and at the PGC in Sidney. Coincidentally, Ottawa is also in a seismically active region, although southwest British Columbia is clearly the most seismically hazardous part of Canada. The GSC maintains the Canadian National Seismic Network with more than one hundred and twenty stations, including thirty three-component broadband stations. In the 1990s, the number of strong-motion accelerographs was increased to more than one hundred, with more than 60 operated by the GSC and fifty-eight by BC Hydro, which is, of course, particularly concerned with dam safety. In 1985, a new set of seismic hazard maps was incorporated into the National Building Code. The most recent set of hazard maps has been incorporated into the 2010 National Building Code.

The first leveling surveys for crustal deformation were carried out on Vancouver Island in 1929 and 1930 by the Geodetic Survey of Canada. These lines were resurveyed after the 1946 earthquake, showing evidence of subsidence of up to eighty millimeters, probably due to the earthquake. Other deformation studies used tide-gauge data and high-precision measurements of Earth’s gravity. In 1991, a GPS station was set up as the first part of the Western Canada Deformation Array, now a network of nine stations in southwestern British Columbia. These geodetic studies have been a major contributor to our understanding of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and also led to the discovery of slow earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, as discussed in Chapter 4.

Paleoseismic studies have lagged behind, principally because no active surface-rupturing fault has yet been found in British Columbia, in large part due to dense vegetation and heavy rainfall. However, the Canadians have studied their own marsh deposits on Vancouver Island that subsided during subduction-zone earthquakes. The contribution the Canadians have made to a better understanding of the Cascadia Subduction Zone and crustal deformation is very large, considering that it has been made by a relatively small number of research scientists. The key to the success of the Canadian research program is the application of multidisciplinary techniques by scientists of varied backgrounds, all located at the PGC in Sidney and at GSC headquarters in Ottawa.

The Canadian RADARSAT-2, launched in 2007, is one of the satellites providing radar interferometry data (Synthetic Aperture Radar), following RADARSAT-1, which was launched in 1995. It is operated for the Canadian Space Agency by MDA, which in 2014 produced a radar map of Canada.

Earthquake preparedness and response are the responsibility of the provinces; in British Columbia, this is the Provincial Emergency Program. The federal government will assist (when called upon) through the Office of Critical Protection and Emergency Preparedness, the Canadian equivalent of FEMA. The Canadian counterpart of NSF is the Research Council of Canada. Active earthquake research is conducted at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and Carleton University; all work closely with the GSC.

13. Getting the Word Out to the Public

Scientists and engineers in the NEHRP program and in other federal agencies in the United States and Canada have made great advances in the understanding of earthquakes and of how to strengthen our society against future earthquakes. But how well has NEHRP and the Geological Survey of Canada succeeded in getting their research results out to society at large? Educating the public was one of the objectives of the original Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, and this objective has been stated many times since, particularly at the prodding of Congress. Yet a quarter-century later, the public is still not well enough informed about earthquakes to demand action. Why?

Many government scientists and their supervisors believe their job is done when their research results are published in a government document such as a USGS Professional Paper. But the publications branch of USGS is underfunded and inefficient. Because the papers represent the official position of a federal agency, they must be approved not only by other scientists but also by USGS and GSC management.

But most people don’t have ready access to USGS and GSC publications, although instructions on how to obtain them are provided at the end of this book. Many USGS maps are available only online, which requires the user to have access to a large-format printer. To address the problem of ready access, the USGS has placed a list of all of its 110,000 publications from 1880 to the present on the World Wide Web, available at This list contains abstracts of some publications, and some of the more recent full publications are available online.

Even if you are successful in finding the list and purchasing a publication, you discover that it is written for other scientists and engineers, not for the general public. The papers are full of technical jargon, and a background in earthquake science is necessary to understand fully the results. Many USGS scientists, frustrated by bureaucratic delays in their own publications branch, publish their results in scientific journals. Non-USGS scientists, including myself, do the same. This fulfills the scientist’s professional obligation but still does not inform the public, because the scientific journal articles are also full of technical terms.

The USGS, FEMA, GSC, and other agencies have responded by publishing circulars and fact sheets written in language easy for a nontechnical person to understand, and where available, these publications are listed in the lists of further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter. In addition, USGS and GSC officials have testified in public hearings on policy issues, and they have made themselves available to civic groups and classes for presentations on their specialty. All USGS offices have a public information officer ready to respond to questions and to arrange talks to civic groups. I salute two USGS scientists who have taken it upon themselves to present earthquake information in user-friendly format: Sue Hough and Ross Stein. The Web pages of the USGS and other federal agencies have information that is useful and entertaining, geared to the general public. NOAA has slide sets of earthquake damage that are useful in instruction, and I have used them in my classes and in this book.

In general, though, the public is educated not by government documents, regardless of how well they are written, but by the broadcast and print media. A television reporter is interested in a breaking news story like an earthquake, not in public education. When a large earthquake strikes, my telephone rings off the hook for a day or a week, depending on how the story develops. Earthquake scientists, including myself, prefer to go about their lives unbothered by microphones or television cameras. During an earthquake, however, we get our fifteen minutes (or twenty-four hours) of fame, and any public education message has to be threaded into our response to the news story. That message often ends up on the cutting-room floor.

In 2014, I was interviewed by Associated Press after the publication of a document pointing out the lack of resilience of Oregon communities against the next subduction-zone earthquake. In my view, the conclusions of this report were stark and frightening, particularly if we don’t begin a major effort to strengthen our state, particularly the coast, against the inevitable earthquake we face. The young woman who interviewed me was not well informed about earthquakes, and, despite my efforts, the story that resulted was just another doomsday earthquake story, not implying new information about our lack of resilience. It was my job to tell this story in a convincing way, and I blew it.

In some cases, the media have an agenda in pursuing a story, as was the case after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, when newspaper articles downplayed the earthquake and emphasized the fire, twisting the statements of scientists in doing so. The 1994 Northridge Earthquake ruptured a blind fault that was previously unknown to the scientific community, and CNN developed a story that had as its theme the withholding by the oil industry of subsurface oil well and seismic data that could have revealed the presence of the earthquake fault. Several of us use oil-company data in our earthquake studies, so I was one of those interviewed by CNN and asked about how difficult it was for me to get information from oil companies. I told the interviewer in Atlanta that oil companies had supplied me with all the information I had asked for, even hiring as summer interns my students working on earthquake projects. Nonetheless, the broadcast still carried the implication that oil companies had withheld data, and my comments stating the opposite were not used.

In the long run, the best way to get the word out is in the classroom, starting in elementary schools, where children are fascinated by earthquakes and volcanoes just as they are by dinosaurs. Earthquakes and volcanoes are generally included in courses in Earth science in high school, but these courses are not required and often are not even recommended in high school. Many high schools lack a teacher qualified or interested in teaching an Earth science course that would include a unit on earthquakes. I hope this book provides the resources to turn this problem around. The Great California Shake-Out has been adopted around the world, including the Pacific Northwest, and it holds promise because it involves so many people.

14. Summary and a Word about the Future

NEHRP, NASA’s Earth Systems Enterprises, and NOAA’s Tsunami Mitigation Program are mission-oriented, applied programs, not basic research programs. In the words of Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Maryland), this is strategic rather than curiosity-drivenresearch. And yet NEHRP has been responsible for fundamental discoveries not only about earthquakes but about how the earth deforms and behaves through time. Not only this, but NEHRP has brought about world leadership in earthquake science for the United States since its beginning in the 1970s. Most of what has been presented in this book is the result of research funded by the U.S. and Canadian federal governments. The U.S. earthquake program is the best in the world, even though it has not yet been able to weave an understanding of earthquake science and engineering into the fabric of society.

But U.S. leadership is now being challenged by the Japanese. The cost of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake was ten times the cost of the Northridge Earthquake the preceding year, and an additional cost was to the confidence of the Japanese in coping with the earthquake peril throughout most of their country. Accordingly, the Japanese government has ratcheted up its budget for earthquake hazards research to a much higher level than the American program, or that of any other country, possibly because so much of their country—including the capital city of Tokyo—is at great risk from earthquakes. The U.S. responded to the Northridge Earthquake with a one-year special appropriation with no long-range follow-up but instead an attempt by the Republican Congress in 1995 to dissolve the USGS, the principal agency responsible for earthquake research. If inflation is taken into account, the funding for the earthquake program is lower in real dollars than it was in 1977, when NEHRP started.

Perhaps this is because earthquakes are still perceived as a California problem, despite the fact that earthquakes have caused great damage in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Washington, including the $2 billion Nisqually Earthquake. Most people, if asked to list the things they would like the federal government to do, would not list earthquakes in the top ten, unless they live in an area that was recently struck by an earthquake, such as Olympia or Seattle. Because of this prevailing public attitude, leadership in earthquake studies may return to where it was at the beginning of the twentieth century, to Japan.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Cassidy, J. F., G. C. Rogers, J. Adams, D. McCormick, and T. Onur. 2003. New opportunities for Canadian earthquake monitoring information and research. Geological Survey of Canada 2003-H3, available on GSC website.

Cassidy, J. F., G. C. Rogers, and R. D. Hyndman. 2003. The Pacific Geoscience Centre and one hundred years of seismological studies on Canada’s west coast, in Jennings, P., H. Kanamori, and W. H. K. Lee, eds., International Handbook of Earthquake and Engineering Seismology, in press, CD-ROM.

Crosson, R. S. 1972. Small earthquakes, structure, and tectonics of the Puget Sound region. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, v. 62, p. 1133-71.

FEMA. 2001. HAZUS99, Estimated annualized earthquake losses for the United States. FEMA366, February 2001, available online from FEMA.

FEMA Region X. 2002. Earthquake hazard mitigation handbook for public facilities, 99 p.

Geschwind, C.-H. 2001. California Earthquakes: Science, Risk, and the Politics of Hazard Mitigation, 1906–1977. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. The story of the U.S. earthquake program from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake to the establishment of NEHRP in 1977.

Hanks, T. C. 1985. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program—scientific status. USGS Bulletin 1659, 40 p.

Ludwin, R. S., C. S. Weaver, and R. S. Crosson. 1991. Seismicity of Washington and Oregon: Geological Society of America Decade of North American Geology, Decade Map Volume 1, chapter 6, p. 77-98.

Ludwin, R. S., A. I. Qamar, S. D. Malone, C. Jonientz-Trisler, R. S. Crosson, R. Benson, and S. C. Moran. 1994. Earthquake hypocenters in Washington and northern Oregon, 1987-1989, and operation of the Washington Regional Seismograph Network. Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Information Circular 89, 40 p.

Milne, W. G., G. C. Rogers, R. P. Riddihough, G. A. McMechan, and R. D. Hyndman. 1978. Seismicity of western Canada. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, v. 15, p. 1170-93.

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. 2003. Expanding and using knowledge to reduce earthquake losses: Strategic plan 2001-2005. FEMA Document 383, 66 p. Available online from FEMA.

Office of Technology Assessment, Congress of the United States. 1995. Reducing earthquake losses. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, OTA-ETI-623, 162 p.

Page, R. A., D. M. Boore, R. C. Bucknam, and W. R. Thatcher. 1992. Goals, opportunities, and priorities for the USGS Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program. USGS Circular 1079, 60 p.

Plafker, G., and J. P. Galloway. 1989. Lessons learned from the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989. USGS Circular 1045, 48 p.

Scott, S., interviewer. 1999. Robert E. Wallace: Connections, the EERI Oral History Series.

Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, OSH-6

Stein, S., J. Tomasello, and A. Newman. 2003. Should Memphis build for California’s earthquakes? EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, , v. 84, p. 177, 184-85. Responses by A. D. Frankel and S. E. Hough in EOS Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, v. 84, p. 271-72.

USGS. 1996. USGS response to an urban earthquake: Northridge ’94. USGS Open-File Report 96-263, 78 p.