Expert Report

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The Board on Earth Sciences and Resources released Improved Seismic Monitoring Improved Decision-Making: Assessing the Value of Reduced Uncertainty. With approximately 30 percent of the population and 50 percent of the national building stock in areas prone to damaging earthquakes, and with both statistics continuing to increase, there is a growing need to mitigate the nation's earthquake risk. Improved information from seismic monitoring instruments offers the potential for more accurate building damage predictions and loss estimates, as the basis for more effective loss avoidance regulations, more effective emergency preparedness activities, and improved earthquake forecasting capabilities. A National Research Council committee conducted a broad assessment of the economic benefits of improved seismic monitoring, with particular emphasis on U.S. Geological Survey plans to deploy modern seismic monitoring instrumentation the Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS) primarily in the urban areas throughout the nation that are most at risk from earthquake losses. The report concludes that full deployment of ANSS offers the potential to substantially reduce earthquake losses and that the potential benefits from reducing annualized earthquake losses estimated at $5.6 billion for buildings and building-related damage alone far outweigh the annualized cost of the system of about $96 million. The committee concluded that the annual dollar costs of seismic monitoring are in the tens of millions, and that the potential annualized dollar benefits from improved seismic monitoring are in the hundreds of millions.

Key Messages

  • Although concentrated on the West Coast, the risk of significant earthquake loss applies to many areas of the country.
  • Full deployment of the ANSS offers the potential to substantially reduce earthquake losses and their consequences by providing critical information for land-use planning, building design, insurance, warnings, and emergency preparedness and response.
  • Improved earthquake hazard assessments combined with more accurate loss estimation models both dependent on improved seismic monitoring offer significant benefits for emergency response and recovery. These benefits include rapid and accurate identification of the event, its location and magnitude, the extent of strong ground shaking, and estimates of damage and population impacts.
  • It is reasonable to conclude that mitigation actions based on improved information and the consequent reduction of uncertainty would yield benefits amounting to several times the cost of improved seismic monitoring.
  • This information expedites hazard identification, promotes rapid mobilization at levels appropriate to the emergency, and facilitates the rapid identification of buildings that are safe for continued occupation and those that must be evacuated. These are tangible benefits to the emergency management community, and ultimately to residents of seismically active regions of the country. Although difficult to quantify, the ultimate benefits are lives saved, property spared, and human suffering reduced.
  • the committee concluded that a compilation and description of the broad range of potential benefits quantified where possible would be the most appropriate and useful response to this aspect of its charge, recognizing that a base level of research and information is required before a rigorous and fully quantified estimate of potential benefits can be made.