Stronger Direction Needed for the National Earthquake Program

RCED-83-103: Published: Jul 26, 1983. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 1983.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO: (1) evaluated efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to carry out the role assigned to it by statutory law; (2) described federal activities to assist state and local governments with earthquake response planning; and (3) discussed why a prediction system has not been developed.

GAO found that FEMA, the lead agency for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, needs to do more to fulfill the requirements of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977. GAO believes that the newly formed FEMA Earthquake Policy Review Group can provide needed direction to federal agencies in the program by improving interagency planning, budgeting, and evaluation. Progress has been slow in developing earthquake response plans at the state and local levels and in the private sector, and future progress will depend upon adequate FEMA direction and upon the resources available to those preparing the actual plans. GAO also found that an operational earthquake prediction system, an objective of the act, has not been developed, because necessary technological advances have not occurred. Although current monitoring systems can produce warnings, but not predictions, of an impending earthquake, further basic research is needed before reliable short-term predictions are feasible.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FEMA has taken action to strengthen the interagency review group, including formalizing the group. The group meets regularly to consider budgets, plans, and policy issues. Funding of earthquake activities, however, is still done on an agency-by-agency basis.

    Recommendation: The Director of FEMA should formalize and strengthen the role of the Earthquake Policy Review Group, as the program's oversight and management body by: (1) scheduling regular meetings; (2) instituting a process that will bring important issues before it for decision, including establishing program goals, priorities, budgets, and target dates; and (3) requesting, if necessary, specific congressional funding for its activities.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The interagency committee is continuing to monitor prediction developments. The 5-year earthquake plan provides for work on earthquake prediction and includes a proposed budget approved by the Office of Management and Budget.

    Recommendation: The Director of FEMA, through the interagency body, should determine the level of priority that should be assigned to achieving advances in technology and knowledge necessary to make a prediction system feasible. This determination should weigh the costs and uncertainties of a prediction system against the potential benefits of reducing loss of life and injuries as well as reducing property damage and disruption. If it is decided that the development of an operational system is vital to the nation's disaster preparedness and scientific and other problems can be overcome, then FEMA and the Geological Survey, through the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, should seek to arrange adequate funding for its development.

    Agency Affected: Federal Emergency Management Agency


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