FEMA Advances Earthquake Safety

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As the nation's lead emergency management and preparedness agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) works to protect communities from all hazards. Many of the capabilities and processes required to safeguard lives and property from earthquakes are similar to those needed for other hazards, such as hurricanes and flooding. Consequently, much of what FEMA does to protect against earthquakes is not exclusively related to earthquakes or any other single hazard. This work, which is relevant to multiple hazards, includes supporting the development of state and local emergency management capabilities; promoting disaster preparedness; guiding disaster-response planning and exercises; and maintaining disaster recovery programs.

FEMA also carries out a range of activities that are specifically related to earthquakes. This page provides an overview of these efforts. Most of FEMA's earthquake-specific activities are supported and guided by the agency's participation in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP). The other participants in this interagency program, which Congress established in 1977 and has since periodically reauthorized, are the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

FEMA's role within NEHRP is primarily one of implementation. That is, FEMA advances awareness, understanding, and use of the earthquake risk-reduction measures developed through basic and applied research supported by the other NEHRP agencies. FEMA accomplishes this chiefly through the following activities.

Developing and Disseminating Information and Tools

FEMA develops or sponsors the development of a variety of published material pertaining to earthquake risk reduction. These materials include the earthquake-related Web pages that you are now visiting as well as dozens of authoritative earthquake publications. The agency facilitates and promotes the use of these materials through announcements and conference exhibits targeted to stakeholders and by making them available online, in print, or on compact disc through the FEMA Library.

FEMA also creates tools that facilitate and promote the use of earthquake risk-reduction measures. The most prominent example is the HAZUS earthquake model, part of the Hazards U.S. Multi-Hazard (HAZUS-MH) software system. The earthquake model, which FEMA first released in 1997 and has since continually refined, employs sophisticated risk-assessment methodologies to estimate potential earthquake damage and losses. HAZUS estimates inform and stimulate preparedness and response planning and training, and help states and localities assess the need for and potential benefits of specific risk-reduction strategies such as seismic rehabilitation of existing buildings.

The audiences for whom these tools and information are designed include individuals and families, school teachers and students, public policy makers and planners, and building designers, managers, and regulators. Visit Earthquake Publications to review and access the materials currently available for these audiences.

Advancing Building Codes and Seismic Rehabilitation

Developing, adopting, and enforcing up-to-date building codes, including their seismic provisions and the standards referenced by those provisions, are among the most effective strategies available for earthquake risk reduction. Most building codes, however, apply only to new construction. Equally important is the strategy of retrofitting or rehabilitating existing structures and infrastructure that were built under earlier, less advanced codes or standards.

FEMA develops many of the leading publications that are used to advance and promote these strategies, such as the NEHRP Recommended Seismic Provisions for New Buildings and Other Structures. 2009 Edition (FEMA P-750), which along with its earlier editions has helped guide the ongoing development of seismic code provisions in the United States. In addition, FEMA has partnered with the Building Seismic Safety Council, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and others to actively and successfully support national seismic standards- and code-development processes. For more information about FEMA's publications and activities in this area, visit Earthquake Publications—Building Codes and Seismic Rehabilitation and Building Codes.

Administering Grant Programs

FEMA maintains several grant programs whose funds can be used by state and local governments and other eligible applicants to help mitigate the potentially dangerous and damaging effects of earthquakes. Visit Earthquake Grants for an introduction to these programs and for links to further information about the programs and how they have been used to support earthquake risk-reduction efforts.

Nurturing Outreach, Collaboration, and Planning

FEMA develops, implements, and supports various initiatives, events, and organizations that bring people together to reduce earthquake risks in seismically active regions. The major objectives are to increase awareness of earthquake hazards and the risks they pose to those living and working in these regions, and to engage individuals and organizations in the public and private sectors in learning, planning, promoting, and implementing strategies that reduce these risks.

FEMA's QuakeSmart program, for example, is targeting businesses located in at-risk communities, working through local chambers of commerce and QuakeSmart-sponsored events to inform and engage businesses in effective, ongoing earthquake preparedness and mitigation activities. For several decades, FEMA has supported the establishment and operation of Regional Earthquake Consortia. These nonprofit organizations, now four in number, have arisen in response to the multistate, region-wide impacts that large earthquakes could produce in different parts of the nation. They are stimulating and facilitating regional earthquake planning and policy making and are coordinating and assisting state and local earthquake awareness, education, and mitigation activities. FEMA is also directly promoting regional planning in the central United States through its New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) Catastrophic Planning Project. This unprecedented five-year initiative, begun in 2006, is engaging numerous federal, state, and local agencies in collaboratively developing and exercising integrated earthquake response and recovery plans for the NMSZ.

Supporting Technical Training

FEMA supports the development and provision of earthquake-related training through its National Earthquake Technical Assistance Program (NETAP). Currently, the NETAP curriculum emphasizes the reduction of seismic risks associated with existing buildings. Courses targeted to state and local building regulatory officials and to public- and private-sector building design, construction, and management professionals are training students, for example, how to screen buildings to identify those potentially in need of seismic rehabilitation; how to secure the nonstructural components of buildings to reduce earthquake damage, casualties, and losses; how to seismically retrofit one- and two-family wood-frame dwellings; and how to quickly evaluate whether damaged buildings can safely be entered and occupied after an earthquake.

State and local agencies and organizations interested in holding a NETAP course in their locality should contact the earthquake program manager at their FEMA Regional Office, FEMA Earthquake Contacts, for information. NETAP can often cover the cost of providing course materials for students and a highly qualified on-site instructor.

Some of the NETAP courses are based upon specific FEMA earthquake publications, and FEMA also maintains an online training tool for state earthquake program personnel. Visit Earthquake Publications—Training to access these and other resources.

Last Updated: 
08/30/2012 - 14:18