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Congress, Be Warned

NIBS to brief legislators on earthquake, wind damage risks

"To protect American lives and businesses from earthquake and wind disasters," as the organization described in a press release, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) plans to meet with policymakers at the Rayburn Congressional Office Building on March 7 to discuss reauthorization of two critical programs, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) and National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program (NWIRP).

“With nearly half of Americans living and working in high seismic and severe wind regions, committing to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program is important to protect lives and businesses from harm,” said NIBS Interim President & CEO Stephen T. Ayers.

NIBS plans to bring together partners across several industries, including engineering, insurance, standard and code development, homes and businesses, and emergency management to support reauthorization of these important – and expired – bills.

Since its authorization in 1978, NEHRP has made great strides to reduce earthquake risk throughout the United States. John Hooper, a National Academy of Engineering member and leader in building code and standard development, said, “NEHRP celebrating its 46th year of developing the source material for the nation’s model building code for seismic design is a testament to the strong collaboration between the program’s agencies: NIST, FEMA, USGS, and NSF.”

Supporting Community Resilience and Lifeline Infrastructure

Daniel Kaniewski, a former FEMA deputy administrator and member of the NIBS Multi-Hazard Mitigation Council, said, “To build resilience to earthquakes and windstorms, we must ensure the nation’s design standards account for the whole built environment, including lifeline infrastructure.”

Community resilience and recovery after disasters rely on lifeline infrastructure (water, wastewater, electricity, natural gas, liquid fuel, communication, and transportation-highways and railroads, rail, airports, ports, and harbors).

Reducing Earthquake and Wind Damage Risk

NEHRP’s 2018 reauthorization expired September 2023. Similarly, a reauthorization NWIRP funding would enable agencies to fulfill their strategic plan to update wind hazards maps and design codes to safeguard communities. NWIRP expired in 2018.

Lucy Arendt, Professor with St. Norbert College and Chair of the NEHRP Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction, emphasized the current investment gap the program must fulfill its entire strategic plan, despite being such a successful program.

“We can do so much more to protect the American people and economy if the investment matches the needs illustrated in the National Research Council’s 2011 report and the current NEHRP Strategic Plan,” she said. “We owe it to our communities to protect them and show them their safety matters.”

Below are what some prominent organizational leaders had to say on the matter:

Dr. Kent Yu, Board Chair, NIBS Building Seismic Safety Council: “We applaud Congress and our nation’s leaders for their direction to improve the built environment and critical infrastructure to reflect performance goals stated in terms of post-earthquake reoccupancy and functional recovery time in the 2018 reauthorization (P.L. 115-307). Over the past several years, earthquake professionals have stepped up and made exciting progress. To build a resilient nation, it is critical that we continue to make resilience-focused investments to advance building sciences and improve design and construction practices. Equally as important is to address a gaping hole in our nation’s attention and funding priority related to seismic resilience of lifeline infrastructure (e.g., electric power, water, transportation, etc.). These lifeline infrastructure systems underpin our nation’s economy and are vital to rapidly restoring the economy of a region after an earthquake. Right now, Congress has an opportunity to reinvigorate investment in seismic resilience of lifeline infrastructure.”

Lakisha Ann Woods, EVP & CEO, American Institute of Architects (AIA): "In the face of our changing climate and the increasing frequency of severe weather events, the insights and actions guided by NEHRP and NWIRP are more crucial than ever. AIA and architects are committed to working alongside our partners and Congress to safeguard our physical infrastructure and strengthen the resilience of our communities. It is through this relentless pursuit of innovation and commitment to public safety that we can look towards a more secure and sustainable future.”

Dr. Charles J. Carter, President, American Institute of Steel Construction: “NEHRP and NWIRP will cost pennies on the dollar as they deliver solutions that will make hundreds of trillions of dollars of buildings safe for Americans in windstorms and earthquakes. If there's a better value proposition for federal funding, I'm not aware of it.”

Dr. Natalie F. Enclade, Executive Director of BuildStrong America: "The reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program is not just a commitment to safety, it's a dedication to safeguarding the lifelines that connect communities, commerce, and crucial services. By prioritizing seismic resilience, we can protect lives, invest in the uninterrupted flow of vital resources, and ensure that communities stand strong in the face of seismic challenges.”

Roy Wright, CEO, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety: “The collaboration and preparedness of resilient communities prior to a natural disaster is critical in their ability to bounce back more quickly, allowing residents to stay in their homes and return to normalcy in an abbreviated timeframe. Using research-based actions to build science into real-world solutions allows these regions to not just recover, but flourish.”

Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., President, American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE): “Since 1977, NEHRP has provided the resources and leadership that have led to significant advances in understanding the risk earthquakes pose and the best ways to mitigate them. The newer NWIRP is just beginning to have a similar impact. Funding levels always determine the effectiveness of infrastructure policy, and we need to advance our wind and earthquake resiliency to extend the life of our essential assets. Reauthorization of these critical programs will ensure continued flow of knowledge that guides the ASCE standards process that form the backbone of building codes that protect public health, safety, and economic vitality.”

Chuck Chaitovitz, Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “As extreme weather events are increasing—businesses and local communities remain highly vulnerable to experiencing natural disasters—underscoring the need for federal investments in resilience, predisaster mitigation, and research. These programs are vital to keeping our communities safe by developing tools to reduce the adverse effects of earthquakes and windstorms— and building smart, and modern infrastructure. Today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stands strong with our partners across the country in urging Congress to support the reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.”

Nat Wienecke, Senior Vice President of Federal Government Relations, American Property Casualty Insurance Association: “The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program are essential components to the nation’s long-term economic stability. Advanced efforts to protect property and communities are vital to mitigating natural disaster losses and preserving infrastructure needed for life saving responses and economic continuity. In the long-term, the effectiveness of these programs is dependent on consistent development and application of scientific solutions to improve resilience to natural catastrophic events.”

Lee Covington, President, Reinsurance Association of America: “The RAA commends the U.S. House Committee Science, Space, and Technology leadership, Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and the National Institute of Building Sciences, led by CEO and Eleventh Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers, for coordinating this important and timely congressional briefing on the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. Natural hazard resilience is critical to saving lives and protecting our families, small businesses, communities, and economy. To improve resilience, Congress should prioritize programs, funding, and efforts that advance the best data, science, technology, and codes.”

Dr. Jiqiu (JQ) Yuan, Chief Resilience Officer and Head of Engineering, National Institute of Building Sciences:Natural hazard mitigation saves! NEHRP has played a pivotal role in developing and advancing the nation’s building code requirements for earthquake design for nearly five decades. This alone is a significant accomplishment considering the cost savings of 12:1 when using the latest building code for seismic design. While recent congressional investments in strengthening our infrastructure are critical, equally important are strategic design criteria and guidelines developed through NEHRP and NWIRP incorporate the latest resilience research and design practices for our buildings and lifeline infrastructure.”

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