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Reducing earthquake hazards through federally funded research

NSF investments in earthquake research have reduced risks to people and property. NSF joins other federal agencies to share new knowledge and tools as part of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction program, established in 1977.

Earthquakes can be devastating to families, communities and societal infrastructure, which has implications for national security and the economy.

On March 27, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake hit southern Alaska. The largest recorded earthquake in U.S. history, the event shook rivers and lakes as far away as Texas and Louisiana. The earthquake and resulting tsunami caused 129 fatalities and more than $2.3 billion in property losses (in 2013 dollars).

The damage helped spur the formation of NEHRP, established by Congress with the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act. For more than four decades, federal funding for earthquake research has led to improvements in building codes, evaluation and design guidelines, and construction practices, enhancing societal resilience to earthquakes.

NEHRP is a joint effort between NSF, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and United States Geological Survey. Numerous other federal agencies have earthquake-related programs.

NSF gives researchers the tools they need to learn how earthquakes and tsunami impact buildings, bridges, utility systems and other critical components of today's society.

From 2004-2014, NSF supported operation of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a distributed, multi-user, national research infrastructure for earthquake engineering research, innovation and education.

Through testing and simulations at NEES facilities, researchers made discoveries that advanced earthquake retrofitting, tsunami preparation, and performance-based designs, and contributed many other outcomes.

In 2015, NSF recognized the national need for resilience against multiple natural hazards and initiated a new chapter in hazards research with a $40-million investment in Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI).

Many U.S. communities are vulnerable to more than one kind of natural hazard. A single hazard event can bring several dangers: Earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and landslides. Water, energy and communication systems; buildings, tunnels and industrial facilities; and national security all depend on their ability to withstand natural forces. The stakes are massive.

To help better understand and resist the impacts of earthquake, wind and water hazards, NHERI is providing a network of shared, state-of-the-art research facilities and tools located at universities around the country.

An interdisciplinary approach is essential to create earthquake resilient infrastructures. Another is the importance of considering implementation of knowledge together with advancing the frontiers of knowledge; they should move ahead hand in hand.

Original air date: March 27, 2017

Credit: NSF

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