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National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

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Comments on Chapter 3 of the 2008–2012 Draft Strategic Plan (33)

  • Comment (page 17, line 19): The omission of any intent to include into Goal A basic science aimed at elucidating pre-earthquake phenomena is a reflection of how deeply seismologists or the geophysical community at large are entrenched in the belief that, since they don't understand pre-earthquake signals, these signals do not require study. Many even go so far as to say that these pre-EQ signals don't exist and to study them would be pseudoscience.

    Progress can only be made if we concentrate our greatest efforts on what is (still) unknown. NEHRP has an obligation toward the public (tax payers) to be inclusive and make an effort to explore what is at the forefront of science.

    Suggestion: ...will support basic research in the geosciences, engineering, and social sciences on pre-earthquake and earthquake phenomena, on earthquake impacts, and on means to reduce earthquake effects.
  • Comment (page 17, line 29): Make understanding the driving forces of earthquakes a major priority

    Suggestion: Objective 1: Advance understanding of earthquake phenomena, generation processes and the driving forces.
  • Comment (page 17, line 29): Observation 1: The term "…project future seismicity" seems to always imply some % probability of a MX.X quake in the next 30 years using these mechanical indicators (ANSS and Earthscope instruments).

    Observation 2: The NEHRP seems to exclude short term forecasting and the use of any tools that are not in the mainstream research areas

    I am part of a small business R&D organization that has spent the last 8 years performing research looking at the underlying causes of earthquakes from a physics basis.

    Our focus is not to duplicate the great work that USGS, NSF, and Earthscope has done monitoring mechanical effects of earthquakes (seismometers, GPS, INSAR, strain meters, etc), but rather to try to collaborate with several dozen researchers across the world who are studying electromagnetic (EM) precursor signals associated with earthquakes with the goal of developing a short term forecasting hazard assessment for areas at high risk for large earthquakes. These electromagnetic indicators include:

    1. Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) magnetic field disturbances that occur days to 2 weeks prior to large quakes (ref. A.F. Smith, Simon Klemperer at Stanford, F. Morrison at Berkeley, our private company- QuakeFinder, and Hayakawa and Hattori in Japan, J.Y. Liu in Taiwan, O. Molchanov in Russia, and others)
    2. Infrared "blooms" that occur several days prior to large earthquakes (ref. N. Bryant at NASA/JPL, and D. Ouzounov at NASA/GSFC, and others in China and Russia)
    3. Ionospheric disturbances over the quake area that occur hours prior to an earthquake (ref J.Y. Liu in Taiwan and others in Russia)
    4. Air conductivity changes in the quake area that are just now being detected (ref QuakeFinder: Oct 30 2007 Alum Rock quake in California)
    5. Earthquake lights (ref reports documented in a paper by J. Derr of USGS)

    By the way, as a private company, we have contributed over $3-4M over these 8 years to this research because we believe strongly that EM may be a fruitful research field to make some progress in this area.

    In the spirit of "public-private partnerships" that NEHRP seems to want to promote—we are one of these "private" groups.

    Many have said that there are no reasonable explanations for these EM phenomena.

    I disagree strongly, and point to a number of papers authored by F. Freund from NASA Ames and SETI which have demonstrated in many laboratory experiments that charge carriers (p holes) are released in rock under asymmetric stress, and the resulting currents (magnetic field disturbances), IR signatures, and air conductivity changes are a repeatable outcome of the rock stressing activities.

    This brings me to the point, namely a couple of questions, and a suggestion.

    Question: Has there has been a mandate given to exclude research on electromagnetic (EM) phenomena as a short term indicator of large earthquakes in your strategic planning?

    If there has been a mandate or reluctance to consider and fund EM research, why?

    The mechanical-based research has not provided any new indicators for short term forecasting in the last 50 years. Why not try something new that has shown some limited, but encouraging results?

    Suggestion: Include research into electromagnetic phenomena and any other new research areas that address short term earthquake forecasting techniques that are based on physical means. Specifically, include a statement at the end of Objective 1 that challenges the community to take a fresh look at specific SHORT term (weeks, days and hours) forecasting methods with the objective of providing a graduated warning system that can assist emergency responders, government officials, and the public in general with preparing effectively for the actual earthquake event. This goal for short term earthquake forecasting is similar to the graduated warning system in place now for hurricanes (satellite images and computer tracking models) and tornados (Doppler radar, computer models, and neighborhood warning sirens).
  • Comment (page 17, line 31): SAR imagery recently detected aseismic slip on faults in Eastern California. Better understanding of aseismic slip processes in general will lead a better understanding of the partially aseismic Hayward fault in the San Francisco Bay area, the more

    Suggestion: Objective 1: Add reference to understanding why and which faults rupture in earthquakes and why other faults slip aseismically.
  • Comment (page 17, line 33): There are no any particularly reference in the entire document to any satellite based observation of earthquake processes. May be one of the reason is the NASA is still not listed as member agency of NHERP. I am proposing some new wording. The main objective of "Objective 1" is the advance understanding, which in the current version do not include any satellite based analysts (GPS, SAR, topography, thermal imaging etc) and would reflect on the ability to operate in "advance" mode.

    Suggestion: The problem is complex, requiring laboratory, seismic, geodetic, geologic and satellite observations.
  • Comment (page 17, line 34): The "physics of earthquakes" which seismologists invoke is concerned only with macroscopic processes. It is a far cry from real physics which would have to include studies of solid state processes down to the atomic level. The expertise for such studies lies outside the geophysical community.

    NEHRP has in the past systematically discriminated against proposed work that would extend the field of earthquake studies from the macroscopic scale to microscopic (atomic-level) processes. Because of this exclusive attitude, the USA has fallen behind other countries.

    Suggestion: understand the physics of the processes leading up earthquakes as well as the physics of earthquakes and their impact on the Earth's crust.
  • Comment (page 17, line 36): This version of the Strategic plan has acknowledged the multiple hazard approach concept but there is no emphasis on the multidisciplinary study of the earthquake phenomena. The main approach proposed in the plan is still seismic driven and do not reflects adequately the very fast development of the full spectrum of sciences providing a great potential for better understanding of the earthquake process. Still are very relevant the comments made by Ari Ben-Menahem some time ago:—"Unless we launch a concentrated interdisciplinary effort, we will always be surprised by the next major earthquake"

    Suggestion: This knowledge will contribute to developing and improving interdisciplinary models of earthquake processes for all regions of moderate to high seismicity.
  • Comment (page 18, figure): Looks more like abstract art than an illustration of ground shaking

    Graphic is not particularly useful

    Suggestion: Replace it with something better, at least something in which one can distinguish geographical features
  • Comment (page 18, line 22): The third word implies a very strong emphasis on earthquake prediction. Although later text does discuss in a minor way future earthquake expectations, this statement of prediction seems to be moving in a direction abandoned many years ago.

    Is USGS going to implement a "earthquake prediction" effort within this Plan? If so, no change needed. If not, delete "prediction" here.

    Suggestion: delete "prediction"
  • Comment (page 18, line 22): I had thought that USGS had stopped active "prediction" research, and were working more toward better for[e]casts.

    If the above comment is not true, that is, USGS p[la]ns to mobilize prediction research within this strategic plan, the following suggestion is not appropriate.

    Suggestion: delete "predictions"
  • Comment (page 18, line 28): Landsliding should be addressed under Objective 2.
  • Comment (page 18, line 29–42): The focus of this text is too narrow. It describes the NEES and performance-based design priorities, but it does not address the complementary work to study site response, strong ground motion, ground deformation, and other types of earthquake effects operating in the "free field." This information is essential for understanding the input ground shaking on buildings and for determining how structures perform as a result of earthquake shaking.

    Broaden scope of discussion

    Suggestion: Leaving this one to you!
  • Comment (page 18, line 41–42): This document contains 149 references to Buildings and one single reference to dams.

    The Dam Safety and Security Act of 2003 indicates that there are 10,000 high-hazard dams in the US. Many of them are in seismic area, failure (even partial) of a dam would be cataclysmic.

    Suggestion: Dams are not "other structures" (after buildings), they ought to receive more attention.
  • Comment (page 20, line 10): It is not clear what is meant by this reference.
  • Comment (page 20, line 41): The assumption is that the exposure to loss is too high but the case is not made.

    We must first understand the risks we face, identify our risk tolerance (or risk targets) and then decide by how much we need to reduce the risk.
  • Comment (page 22, line 1): I see nothing re: civilian communications management. What research is being done regarding effective backup systems? e.g. emergency portable communications centers?

    During past quakes cell phones have become useless and landline pay phones have become scarce as have wired (vs wireless) home phones. When power goes down there's even less chance of communicating.

    Suggestion: Add something that specifically addresses this issue.
  • Comment (page 22, line 8–16): From my perspective, an electronic data repository for Post-Earthquake Information Management System is already available and not needed. Instead work is needed to: 1) develop a consensus on what information to collect where and when following earthquakes, what level of detail and format to collect it in, who is to collect it, consistency in data collection techniques, how will data be used, what amount of pre-earthquake preparation for post-earthquake information collection is needed, and what should be the level of training and pre-earthquake commitment made by collectors. In short, Post-Earthquake Information Management is a challenge involving people, commitment and coordination not solvable by an electronic tool alone. Computer tools are incidental hurdles and various sorts are already available and in use. Since many organizations and disciplines are involved in data collection following earthquakes, no single electronic data repository can be effectively developed and managed by a single entity. Collaboration between multiple entities and commitments from each to do their part consistently and to share in the effort is needed.

    Past experience data collection efforts after earthquakes since 1980. CA Post-Earthquake Information Clearinghouse findings.

    Suggestion: Outcome: A nationwide consensus among professional, governmental, and academic organizations to devote additional resources and personnel to systematically collect, archive and share information about the performance of engineering, social, and emergency response systems following earthquakes.
  • Comment (page 22, line 32): This does not seem to be the correct word for the title of Objective 5

    It seems that estimating is the more proper term than assessments.

    Suggestion: Replace "Assessments" with "Estimating likely"
  • Comment (page 22, line 35): The revisions [are] not this periodic

    Suggestion: These national hazard assessments are updated every several years...
  • Comment (page 22, line 35): It seems that they will be estimating the hazards rather than assessing them. This also applies to page 22, lines 38 and 40 (twice) and page 23, line 2

    Suggestion: Replace "assessments" by "estimates" at all five locations
  • Comment (page 23, figure): The title to the figure indicates that spectral accelerations are plotted, but the legend is too small to read. What is the peak spectral acceleration?
  • Comment (page 23, line 28–42): Consider saying something about the need for training HAZUS instructors and experts and disseminating HAZUS results as well as "improve modeling capabilities." Maybe also mention support for enhancing local databases for HAZUS.

    HAZUS modeling capabilities are important but not the only consideration in the development of this very useful tool.

    Suggestion: "Develop and i[m]prove HAZUS expertise, local databases and modeling capabilities."
  • Comment (page 24, line 5): Objective 7: Develop tools to improve the seismic performance of buildings and other structures lack provisions for addressing fires after earthquakes. Current research trends are expanding to address this concern, i.e. proposals for full scale testing at University of California, San Diego. In addit[i]on the need to assure adequate fire protec[ti]on [of] structural elements following fires is identified in many publications, i.e. "Fire Following Earthquake" ASCE/NFPA Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering.

    Efforts limit to the str[u]c[tu]ral performance of the components of the built environment are remiss in addressing the impact of earthquake on ind[i]viduals, the built environment and society at large.

    Suggestion: Expand the program to include the dev[e]lopment of minimum design provisions to assure that there is adequate fire protection to avoid large conflagrations, and for specific projects when water supplies are disrupted or when availability of fire services is limited or overwhelmed.
  • Comment (page 24, line 11–13): Objective 7: Develop tools to improve the seismic performance of buildings and other structures.

    Objective 8: Develop tools to improve the seismic performance of critical infrastructure

    These two objectives are similar since critical infrastructure are composed of buildings and other structures.

    Suggestion: A distinction should be made between the different seismic performance objectives of ordinary buildings and critical infrastructure in these two objective statements.
  • Comment (page 24, line 16): The text is misleading.

    Our building codes do not "ensure public life safety" but rather seek to prevent substantial loss of life on a building-by-building basis.
  • Comment (page 24, line 16): Building codes do not attempt to functionality after design or maximum earthquake shaking.
  • Comment (page 24, line 21): [P]hrasing suggests that the research and social sciences communities are mutually exclusive. Social scientists do research too.

    Suggestion: "NEHRP will work with the physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, and practitioner communities...,"
  • Comment (page 25, line 6): Another important objective that should be added is "Develop tools to improve the seismic performance of building nonstructural components and systems."
  • Comment (page 25, line 9): "non-structural" should be replaced by "nonstructural"
  • Comment (page 25, line 20): should be replaced by "University at Buffalo, SUNY"
  • Comment (page 29, line 15): Should be "Oceanic" not "Oceanographic"
  • Comment (page 32, line 1–4): This language perpetuates the myth that NEHRP's priority for Objective 12 should be toward making better building codes. However, the real problem that is unstated is that poor quality in design, construction, and code enforcement remain the largest contributors to excess earthquake damage. One could make a case that code enforcement and quality in design and construction are actually now worse than they were with pre-NEHRP codes because they are now overly complex, written to primarily meet the needs of high-end engineering experts and not packaged for effective use by the majority of architects, contractors, and engineers who are actually designing and constructing most facilities.

    Past earthquake reports after 1906, 1933, 1971, 1989, and 1994 [i]dentify poor quality in design, construction, or lack of code enforcement as principal reasons for excess earthquake damage.

    Suggestion: NEHRP should promote training and the professionalization of building departments and other regulatory agencies so that they effectively enforce earthquake safety requirements as its top priority. NEHRP should also ensure that simple code procedures and requirements that are widely used by members of the building industry who are not experts in earthquake engineering are calibrated using PBEE so they will provide reliable and consistent performance.
  • Comment (page 32, figure): It's ironic to see FEMA's highlighting of its report [53]0. This is merely California's Homeowner's Guide to Earthquake Safety with a federal cover. That guide was not prepared with Federal funds. In fact, your staff imposed significant time commitments on CA Seismic Safety Commission to get this work done without appropriate support.

    The development of FEMA 530 is not a good example of NEHRP's past work.

    Suggestion: Choose another NEHRP publication to highlight since FEMA [53]0, other than the cover, does not represent work principally funded by NEHRP. It was funded by State of CA General Fund and royalties paid by homeowners and realtors who purchased earlier versions of the Homeowner's Guide to Earthquake Safety. NEHRP should find more effective ways to support state seismic safety commissions.

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