Earthquake hazards reduction legislation becomes law

Bill Bailey Sr., who served as U.S. Marshall in Cordova for several years, surveys damage to the Copper River Highway near the bridge at Mile 12 following the 1964 earthquake. Cordova Historical Society photo

Bipartisan federal legislation that modernizes safety programs to help states like Alaska prepare for and respond to earthquakes has been signed into law as the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act.

President Donald Trump signed the measure into law on Dec. 11.

“Not even two weeks ago, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck just a few miles north of Anchorage, and there have now been close to 4,000 aftershocks,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who introduced the bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The measure was unanimously approved in the Senate on Sept. 27, and by a voice vote in the House on Nov. 27, just three days before the earthquake in Southcentral Alaska.

“Alaskans’ response is a testament to our resilience and grit, but we also know there is still more than can be done, which is why the enactment of this legislation could not be more timely,” Murkowski said. “The revamped earthquake hazards reduction program will help equip Alaskans and all Americans in seismically active states with the most advanced science and technology to better protect lives and communities.”

“Investing in earthquake research and improving the early warning system will save lives,” Feinstein said. “Recent earthquakes in Alaska have shown us it’s a matter of when, not if, a major earthquake will strike, and we need to be ready.”

Highlights of the bill include emphasizing the continued development of earthquake early warning systems through the Advanced National Seismic System, a requirement for of a set of maps showing active faults and folds, liquefaction susceptibility, and other hazards that can be induced by an earthquake, including landslides, and enhanced coordination among federal and state agencies.

The bill directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to implement a grant program to assist states with incorporating earthquakes in their hazard reduction portfolios and directs completion of a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s earthquake risk reduction progress, as well as areas that require more funding, and evaluation of resulting hazards such as tsunamis or landslides.