GAO Calls for National Assessment to Improve Earthquake Resilience

The National Earthquake Risk Reduction Program (NEHRP) has goals set out in its most recent strategic plan for fiscal years 2009-2013 for improving earthquake resilience in communities nationwide. However, National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) officials told a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review that a national risk assessment had not been conducted to identify improvements and remaining gaps in matter of resilience.

GAO found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has initiated efforts to identify improvements by tracking the status of building code adoption; develop the use of logic models to better understand public awareness of seismic risk reduction; and assess the resilience of communities to natural disasters.

However, a representative of a tribal association and eight of the nine tribal leaders in northern California told the GAO that there is little outreach from FEMA to educate them on how to build earthquake resilience. earthen. For example, tribal officials said they were unaware of guidance and provisions to improve the resilience of new and existing buildings and lifelines. Tribal officials added that when they need information about advice or other earthquake risk reduction measures, they sometimes rely on information obtained from internet searches. Also, the tribal association representative told us that since there had been no outreach from FEMA, they contacted the FEMA regional office in September 2021 to inquire about the NEHRP program and whether tribal governments were eligible for the NEHRP Earthquake Assistance grant.

FEMA said one of its regions conducted outreach with tribes in 2021 to help them understand their earthquake risks, as well as other major hazards, and steps they can take to mitigate. the risks. For example, through the risk mitigation planning process and community meetings, FEMA regional staff met with a tribe in the Pacific Northwest to help them understand their risks and vulnerability to earthquakes. and tsunamis.62 As a result of this awareness, the tribe received a $2.8 million grant for the construction of an evacuation tower.

NEHRP agencies are currently working on updating the FY 2022-2029 Strategic Plan. According to NIST officials, the new plan will have four long-term goals: to advance understanding of earthquake processes and their consequences; improve existing information, tools and practices and develop new ones to protect the nation from the consequences of earthquakes; promote the dissemination of knowledge and the implementation of tools, practices and policies that improve strategies for resisting, responding to and recovering from earthquakes; and learn from post-earthquake surveys to improve the effectiveness of information, tools, practices and policies available to improve earthquake resilience.

However, 19 selected stakeholders told GAO that they were not involved in the process of identifying strategic plan research priority updates. Some said it would be beneficial to see the priority of research given to the social sciences to better support their mission areas. For example, officials from a state emergency office told GAO that they would like social science research to be prioritized so that more information is available to educate people in high seismic areas about ways to prepare for disasters so that they are not afraid of what will inevitably happen. arrive. Another speaker from a state geological survey agency told GAO that it would be beneficial to see more research on unmapped faults to help them understand the extent of locations where faults or fractures occur. occur in the state. Thirteen of the 19 stakeholders (three state emergency management agencies, one U.S. territorial emergency management agency, and nine tribal governments) are located in areas identified as being at high risk for earthquakes.

The GAO says that by conducting a national risk assessment, NEHRP would be more aware of improvements in earthquake resistance and would be better positioned to plan long-term goals and objectives to address remaining gaps. The government watchdog also notes that involving stakeholders in strategic planning would help ensure mission, goals and strategies are focused on the highest priorities.

The GAO report makes seven recommendations:

  • The Director of NIST should, in collaboration with FEMA, NSF, and USGS and in coordination with federal, state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and stakeholders, conduct a national risk assessment to identify progress being made by communities to build resilience to earthquakes since 2015, and the remaining resilience gaps.
  • The FEMA Administrator should develop and implement a plan to educate tribes about earthquake risk reduction initiatives.
  • The Director of NIST should, in conjunction with FEMA, NSF, and USGS, assess and determine whether additional actions are needed to obtain feedback from state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and stakeholders on priorities for research that meets community and stakeholder needs.
  • The NSF Director should, in collaboration with NIST, develop strategies to better communicate NEHRP priorities to research entities.
  • The NEHRP Director should, in collaboration with FEMA, NIST, NSF, and USGS, follow best practices to develop performance measures related to priority research outcomes, and track and monitor research to ensure that research priorities are respected.
  • The NEHRP Director should, in collaboration with FEMA, NIST, NSF, and USGS, follow best practices to identify and leverage program resources needed to achieve priority research outcomes.
  • The Director of NIST should, in conjunction with NSF, document and implement a comprehensive plan to better ensure that all state, local, territorial, and tribal governments and stakeholders are aware of the mechanisms and practices used by NSF and NIST to disseminate research.

Each organization has subscribed to the applicable recommendation(s). For example, FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) Planning and Safety Division, as well as FEMA’s Wind and Seismic Programs Branch, will work with FEMA’s National Tribal Affairs Advisor. to develop culturally appropriate and relevant products to effectively communicate earthquake risk. DHS said once completed, a strategic communications plan will also support the distribution of these products.

Read the full report on GAO

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