Email Print Share
NSF & Congress


Dr. Christina Gabriel
Acting Deputy Director for Engineering

National Science Foundation

Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
April 10, 1997


Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide testimony on the reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), the multi-agency partnership that was established in 1977. Much has happened since NEHRP's inception, including the 1983 Coalinga earthquake, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Such events demonstrate the continuing importance of the program in furthering seismic safety in all vulnerable regions of the nation.

The NEHRP partnership has clearly been a major success story, not only because of the years that the four agencies have worked together, but more importantly because of the role that the program has played in reducing the nation's vulnerability to earthquakes through the development and application of new knowledge and innovative technologies. Colleagues from around the world have expressed their admiration for the efforts of NEHRP, often pointing to disappointments in the lack of cooperation and progress found in similar activities in their own countries.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has been a participant in NEHRP since it was created and has seen it undergo important changes, including the addition of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that increased attention was given by the program to the implementation of seismic safety measures. Other changes have come about through lessons learned from damaging earthquakes, interactions with State and local government and private sector officials, and cooperation with international groups.

The complementary missions of the four NEHRP agencies enable them to work collaboratively and share scarce resources. The emergence of the National Earthquake Loss Reduction Program (NEP) will enable the NEHRP agencies to leverage resources with an even larger group of Federal agencies. NSF looks forward to its continued cooperation with other Federal agencies in making the nation safer from the risks posed by future earthquakes.

The formation of NEHRP is a recognition that earthquakes are inevitable natural hazards, yet need not be inevitable disasters. NEHRP's goal, pursued by the four program agencies - the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and NSF - is the development and promotion of the utilization of knowledge and technologies to reduce future losses of life and property, and social and economic disruption. NSF's contribution to NEHRP involves supporting and encouraging activities relevant to earthquake hazard reduction in the nation related to the development of intellectual capital, strengthening the physical infrastructure, integrating research and education, and promoting partnerships. The role Congress has assigned NSF under NEHRP includes the advancement of knowledge through university research in such areas as earth science, earthquake engineering and earthquake-related social science. Earth science research is supported in NSF's Directorate for Geosciences, and earthquake engineering, earthquake-related social science, and integrated multidisciplinary research is supported in the Directorate for Engineering. NSF is presently engaged in a strategic planning process with the other NEHRP agencies in order to further program coordination and integration.

I would like to bring you up to date on NSF's NEHRP activities, indicating progress we have made as well as new challenges we face.


NSF continues to fund a robust portfolio of earthquake-related research in the fields of earth science, earthquake engineering, and social science, as well as multidisciplinary projects that include contributions from such disciplines as architecture and urban planning. These research activities reflect the complex nature of earthquake hazards and the types of knowledge needed by design professionals, land use planners, emergency managers, and policy makers in order to effectively confront this challenge. NSF remains the most important source of government funding for fundamental research in earthquake engineering and for the investigation of the socioeconomic aspects of earthquake hazards. In addition, the fundamental earthquake research funded by NSF complements both the intramural and extramural research carried out by USGS. The body of research supported by NSF and the other NEHRP agencies enables the U.S. to maintain its world leadership in the earthquake field.

NSF continues to have success in enabling the earthquake research community to contribute to both research and education through individual investigator and small group awards. These types of projects remain the heart of the NSF effort. Such awards, which include analytical, computational, experimental and field research, are contributing to a fundamental understanding of the causes of earthquakes and their effects on the built environment and societal institutions.

More focused and problem-oriented research is also part of the important mix of activities supported by NSF which contribute to the achievement of NEHRP objectives. Such activities include groups of coordinated projects and earthquake centers. There have been some notable changes regarding these types of NSF-funded activities.

Periodically, with encouragement from the academic research community and potential user groups, NSF has announced its intention of directing some of its funding to particularly vexing or promising problem areas which require coordinated research efforts in order for progress to be made. One of the reasons for pursuing these initiatives is to focus the energy and resources of the research community on challenging problems over a particular period of time, five years in most cases. After five years of support, three such initiatives have been phased out: (1) Repair and Rehabilitation of Existing Structures, (2) Precast Seismic Structural Systems, and (3) Structural Control, which was carried out in collaboration with the National Research Council. Of course, while our understanding has been significantly advanced by these initiatives, the problems in these important areas have not been solved. For example, the creation of the Repair and Rehabilitation initiative reflects the fact that NEHRP and many other groups consider the stock of existing buildings to be among the greatest barriers to creating seismically resistant communities in the U.S. Thus, funding will continue to be provided on such research topics as quality unsolicited proposals are received by NSF. In addition, two other promising coordinated projects are currently being pursued: (1) Composite and Hybrid Structures, and (2) Earthquake Ground Motion Modeling in Large Basins. The former is being coordinated with a related effort in Japan.

The NEHRP legislation encourages NSF to support consortia and centers, which we have done. The advantage of a center as a type of research and educational structure is that it enables researchers to work in teams, facilitates integrated research, provides a fertile context for multidisciplinary research, and provides a focal point for attracting additional funding. Thus far, two earthquake centers have been supported by NSF, the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) and the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER).

SCEC was established by NSF as a Science and Technology Center in collaboration with USGS in 1991 for the purpose of promoting and integrating science related to earthquake hazard estimation and reduction in the southern California region. It also receives funding from the City and County of Los Angeles, the State of California, and FEMA. Such broad funding is an example of how NEHRP agencies leverage funds and indicates that SCEC is truly seen as an activity that cuts across the concerns of the program.

SCEC is a consortium of institutions which is administered through the University of Southern California. It continues to contribute significantly to a new understanding of the earthquake hazard in southern California by combining insights from seismicity, new geodetic technology, new geologic discoveries, and local site conditions in an innovative framework of earthquake hazard evaluation. As an example of the value that local and state government place on SCEC as a resource, an invitation was extended to SCEC by the City of Los Angeles to conduct a workshop to begin exploring and defining a common agenda for seismic mitigation planning based on new findings and recent scientific research. This two-day workshop, "Exploring Options for Seismic Zonation in the City of Los Angeles", was a collaborative effort among SCEC, the California Division of Mines and Geology, and the Los Angeles City departments of Planning, Public Works, Water and Power, and Building and Safety. Because of SCEC's successes at the completion of its sixth year, NSF renewed SCEC's funding for another five-year period following a recent comprehensive evaluation.

Under the auspices of SCEC, a network of 250 Global Positioning System (GPS) stations is being installed in southern California with funding by the Keck Foundation, NSF, and NASA. Implementation and operation of the network will be the joint responsibility of U.C. San Diego, Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the USGS. The network will be one of the densest of its kind in the world when completed. A primary focus will be on the many active faults in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan region.

NCEER, a consortium of several universities which has its administrative headquarters at the State University of New York at Buffalo, was originally funded in 1986 to conduct team-based earthquake engineering and multidisciplinary research and carry out information dissemination activities. Its funding was renewed by NSF for a second five-year period in 1991. As in the case of the Southern California Earthquake Center, FEMA also made additional funds available to NCEER for its information dissemination program.

Like SCEC, NCEER, whose major NSF funding was completed in fiscal year 1996, has been a real success story. Its accomplishments have included the development of active control systems for seismic resistance of structures through theoretical analyses, shaking-table tests, and field demonstrations. NCEER has been one of the world's leaders in advancing this innovative technology. It has designed computerized network models for the analysis of utilities that have helped practitioners in such communities as Memphis and San Francisco. NCEER has also developed seismic vulnerability evaluation methods and repair and rehabilitation techniques relevant to the eastern U.S., increased public awareness of earthquake hazards, and in collaboration with building officials has developed seismic design provisions for Connecticut and New York City.

Prior to the final year of funding for NCEER, NSF sought recommendations from the earthquake hazard reduction community about its future funding priorities. This was highlighted by a NSF-sponsored future directions workshop that was held in Washington, D.C., attended by distinguished representatives from academia, government and the private sector. The consensus of the workshop was that both centers and quality individual investigator projects were important in meeting the needs of the nation and maintaining U.S. leadership in the earthquake field. It was therefore recommended that NSF have a new competition for earthquake engineering research center support.

NSF subsequently decided that this was a sound recommendation and thus issued an announcement for a new competition for multidisciplinary earthquake engineering research centers that would receive initial funding in fiscal year 1997. NSF expects to support up to three earthquake engineering research centers for up to $2 million each for a five-year period. The future centers will be expected to emphasize cross-disciplinary team research, provide educational and training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and establish outreach channels to industry, government - including NEHRP agencies - and potential user groups. The centers will also be required to form a network in order to facilitate cooperation and the sharing of human and financial resources and facilities.

NSF also supports the IRIS Consortium (Incorporated Research Institutes in Seismology), which founded and built the Global Seismic Network (GSN). The GSN is now nearing completion of its 100-station network which is the foundation for state-of-the-art monitoring of damaging earthquakes throughout the world. IRIS also maintains a ready array of advanced, portable seismic systems for rapid deployment in the aftershock region of major earthquakes. NSF recently completed review and approval of IRIS's latest five-year plan, IRIS 2000.


As natural laboratories, much can be learned from actual earthquakes, both here and abroad. Post-earthquake investigations complement analytical, computational and experimental research and are therefore vigorously supported by NSF and the other NEHRP agencies. The Northridge earthquake, which struck the Los Angeles area on January 17, 1994, and the Kobe earthquake, which struck Kobe, Japan exactly one year later, are yielding their valuable lessons to both American and Japanese researchers, who have taken the opportunity to exchange data and in some cases to engage in collaborative research.

More than one hundred studies on the Northridge earthquake have been funded by NSF and its NEHRP partners. A coordinated NEHRP effort began soon after the event in order to collect perishable information and data and evolved into a long-term investigation program. This followed a pattern the NEHRP agencies have used following earlier events. The focus of these studies have been on such subjects as the geophysical causes of the earthquake, its impact on buildings and the civil infrastructure, and emergency response and recovery. These studies have been completed or are drawing to a close and, as anticipated, much has been learned that is relevant to future mitigation efforts, including a greater understanding about the performance problems of steel frame buildings, which caught many persons by surprise.

Now that these studies are being completed, plans are underway to disseminate study findings as widely as possible, including to the research community, to relevant practitioners, and to local and State decision makers. One centerpiece activity being planned is an NSF-sponsored conference that will be held in Los Angeles in August of this year which will bring together NSF grantees and researchers from the other NEHRP agencies with potential users of the research results. This conference follows up on a previous one that was held at the beginning of the Northridge earthquake research effort which was funded by FEMA. The Northridge earthquake conference is being organized by the California Universities for Earthquake Engineering , who in connection with this important meeting will publish a report summarizing significant research results produced by Northridge earthquake investigators.

Though occurring far from our shores, the Kobe earthquake offers a sobering picture of what the impact of a near-field earthquake might have on a large U.S. city like Los Angeles or San Francisco. Thus it was important for us on this side of the Pacific to take notice and learn from this devastating event, and this we have been doing. Though our involvement is not nearly as extensive as in the case of Northridge, NSF has supported several investigations of the Kobe earthquake, both early reconnaissance activities and longer-term investigations. As in the case of the Northridge earthquake, these investigations have been multidisciplinary in nature, and have included studies on the geometry of the buried earthquake fault, geotechnical aspects of the earthquake, socioeconomic issues, and reconstruction. It is possible that some future studies will also be sponsored by NSF, as well as data and information exchange activities. A number of workshops and researcher visits have already been supported by NSF. Such activities will probably become even more important in the future, enabling the U.S. to learn about the advances made in the Japanese research program on the Kobe earthquake as it evolves in the months and years ahead.


Like post-earthquake investigations, experimental research is crucial to creating new knowledge in the earthquake hazard reduction field. Such research is needed, for example, to test new theories, designs, and materials. Experimental research is also important as a context for educating future professionals in the field, whether they aspire to become researchers or practitioners.

There are significant experimental research facilities for earthquake engineering research located throughout the U.S., including at academic institutions. However, as noted in the 1995 report by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute entitled Assessment of Earthquake Engineering Research and Testing Capabilities in the United States, the U.S. is in danger of losing its leadership in earthquake engineering research because its experimental research facilities need significant upgrading and enhancement. This assessment was funded by NSF and NIST, and has been followed up with additional reviews sponsored by NSF, including workshops in 1995 and 1996.

Over the years, NSF has been responsible for providing funding for the development of much of the earthquake engineering research infrastructure in academic institutions in the U.S. Consistent with this history, NSF has been assigned the role under NEHRP of taking the lead in advancing the experimental research infrastructure. Reflecting this role, the major upgrading of the shake table at the University of California at Berkeley was made possible with NSF funding. The 20 ft by 20 ft earthquake shake table is the largest in the nation, and with the recent upgrade is now one of the most sophisticated such systems in the world. The principal purpose of the modernization was to add a horizontal component of motion to convert it from a biaxial to a triaxial shake table, making it adequate to test new designs.

NSF will continue to work with the other NEHRP agencies to find ways to advance the nation's earthquake engineering experimental research resources and programs. For example, with funds from FEMA, the University of Nevada at Reno is acquiring two 14 ft by 14 ft shake tables with the largest payload capacity in the U.S. NSF expects to work with FEMA in seeing that this new resource is used for the greatest good for the nation. Also, NSF will work with the other NEHRP agencies such as NIST to enable U.S. earthquake experimentalists to use Japanese facilities when such collaboration provides benefits for the U.S. as well as Japan.


Implementation is extremely important to NEHRP, and NSF's role in that process involves educating future generations of researchers and practitioners, and information dissemination, especially as it involves making research results available on a timely basis to design professionals, urban planners, emergency managers and decision makers. Progress continues to be made in this area, and NSF remains committed to the notion that the best way to educate future professionals in the earthquake field, as in others, is to integrate the research and education experience. Thus, since the last time that NSF had the opportunity to provide testimony before the Subcommittee, numerous earthquake specialists have completed their training on NSF-sponsored research projects at universities across the U.S., and have themselves joined the ranks of those who are passing on knowledge to a new generation of students. Others are in design firms or other settings, applying their state-of-the-art knowledge to solve earthquake problems. To indicate the potential impact of this vital human resource, institutions in the NCEER consortium alone produced over 150 Ph.D.s with training in earthquake engineering during the last five years of NSF support.

The future looks even brighter with regards to the integration of research and education in the earthquake field. In addition to the individual investigator projects, future NSF-sponsored earthquake centers will play a leading role in the education of the next generation of professionals. The students who will be involved in these centers will learn to work in a context of varied disciplines and professions, which is the real world of earthquake hazard reduction. For example, undergraduate and graduate students will be exposed to researchers and ideas from the earth sciences, the social sciences and earthquake engineering, and will be able to relate their work to vital societal needs. Some of these students will likely pursue advanced degrees and become the transmitters of earthquake knowledge, while others will complete their education at the bachelor's or master's degree stage and become professionals who apply such knowledge for the benefit of society.

In addition to its support of educational activities, NSF also continues to contribute to knowledge utilization by funding seminars, workshops and conferences, and information clearinghouses, often in collaboration with other Federal agencies including those in NEHRP. Major support is being provided such information clearinghouses as the Natural Hazards Information Center at the University of Colorado, the two branches of the National Information Service for Earthquake Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Institute of Technology. Both SCEC and NCEER also continue to make contributions to the transfer of earthquake information through their clearinghouse functions and outreach to industry, practitioners and the general public.

Finally, as noted, significant resources are being provided for information dissemination, the first stage in the implementation process, by NSF, the other NEHRP agencies, and other Federal agencies. There are also numerous organizations and groups across the nation that are involved in such activities; thus the potential for coordination problems and program duplication is significant. To begin dealing with this problem, NSF has encouraged the formation of a national earthquake information network. This network was initially launched through an NSF-funded workshop that was organized by the University of California at Berkeley and held in Oakland, California on January 21-23, 1996. Subsequent meetings have been held in other venues and have resulted in the involvement of additional stakeholders in the emerging network. Presently known as the Earthquake Information Providers Group, this network includes such organizations as the previously mentioned information clearinghouses and such professional organizations as the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, the Applied Technology Council, the California Seismic Safety Commission, the Central United States Earthquake Consortium, and the Western States Seismic Policy Council. The Earthquake Information Providers Group is using such mechanisms as a shared Web site to further integration among participating organizations.

Mr. Chairman, this completes my remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions the Subcommittee might have.

See also: Hearing Summary.