NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 26, 2004

Earthquakes in the United States cost an average of at least $4.4 billion in damages annually. With the United States spending about $1 trillion on new building construction by 2010, it behooves the federal government to expand research on building earthquake-resistant structures and mitigating effects of earthquakes, says geologist William Leith.

Two new U.S. government efforts directly address the need for better understanding of the response of structures to earthquakes:

  • The Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) is placing up to 6,000 'strong-ground-motion recording stations' in urban areas across the United States to monitor seismic activity..
  • The Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), being developed by the National Science Foundation, will provide new tools for modeling and earthquake simulation, as well as response.

The two programs are part of Congress' reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) in 2003. However, Leith notes that funding for ANSS was about one-tenth of its authorized level, and proposed funding for NEES for 2005 is about one-fifth of its recommended level.

In contrast, says Leith, since 1995, Japan has increased funding for earthquake monitoring and research to $1 billion. Despite comparable size and earthquake risk, Japan has more than 10 times the number of strong-ground-motion recording stations as California and a national earthquake warning system in place.

Experts predict that an earthquake near San Francisco's Hayward Fault has a 25 percent chance of occurring by 2031, possibly costing 3,000 to 8,000 lives and $170 to $225 billion in losses.

Source: William Leith, "Building for Earthquakes," Science Magazine, June 11, 2004.


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