US unprepared for major earthquake, says NRC

The US is complacent about its ability to cope with earthquakes, says the National Research Council, which has today released a 20-year road map for increasing resilience to quakes.

The report was largely written before the March 11 earthquake in Japan – but the committee of experts who authored it notes that it’s a reminder of just how badly things can go wrong, even in a country that’s acknowledged as a leader in implementing earthquake-resilience measures.

But the US hasn’t suffered a truly devastating earthquake in more than a hundred years. And because of this, says the committee, many people have been lulled into a false sense of security that the nation is already earthquake resilient – which it is not.

For a start, says the report, the US should carry out more research to improve understanding of earthquakes and to increase prediction capabilities.

It should also deploy the rest of the Advanced National Seismic System – only a quarter is fully operational – which provides magnitude and location alerts just a few minutes after an earthquake, as well as the basic data for many of the road map tasks.

Early-warning systems need to be introduced, along with hazard maps to identify at-risk areas, and a lot more needs to be done to aid mitigation and recovery.

The NRC highlighted the results of a recent earthquake-scenario exercise in Los Angeles, which indicated that a magnitude-7.8 earthquake would result in staggering losses, and noted the lack of disaster resilience demonstrated by Hurricane Katrina.

It says that the cost for its earthquake-resilience road map would be around $306 million annually over the first five years.