Archive for April, 2011

Lessons Learned from Japan’s 9.0 M Earthquake

Chris Scholtz, seismologist with Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, waxes philosophical

Chris Scholtz deliberating on the Great Japanese Earthquake of 2011

about lessons learned from Japan’s 9.0 M earthquake near Sendai.   Check out this excellent video from State of the Planet: Lessons from the Japan Earthquake.

It turns out that hazard mapping, which drew on 300 years of historical records, did not serve as well as expected.  In A.D. 869, an earthquake sent a tsunami miles inland – a prequel to this year’s major event. And it was not the first time either.  But ancient events (ancient for historical purposes), were not included in the hazard analysis, which relied on recent and better documented events.

The moral of the story:   don’t eschew tales or legends of catastrophic events simply because they don’t reconcile with  recent events.

Video length – 5:52 minutes.

Mike Conway, 18 April 2011

USGS Earthquake Notification Service (ENS) – Tracking Seismicity

It’s been around awhile but the Earthquake Notification Service (ENS) remains an excellent tool for tracking seismic activity.  A primary feature is being able to select, 1) area of interest (in my case the western U.S.); and 2) a seismic threshold.

Initially, I selected the entire U.S. and a threshold of 3.0 M.  A prompt appeared on the screen indicating that the combination of continent-wide coverage and a low magnitude threshold would result in a large number of alerts.   I got the message.  I revisited my profile and selected the western U.S. – AZ, CA, UT, NM, NV and CO – and bumped the threshold of 3.5 M.   Works fine and allowed me to track the recent activity SW of Hawthorne,

Example of ENS Alert


For educators, geoscientists, civil authorities or the public, ENS is a magnificent tool for tracking seismicity.

Mike Conway, 17 April 2011

Natl Earthquake Managers Mtting – Day 3

Bill Phillips, Idaho Geological Survey, on the bus.

In Boise this afternoon it was partly cloudy and windy with intermittent snow showers.  That didn’t stop Bill Phillips (Idaho Geological Survey) from leading a field excursion to examine the geology and geologic hazards of Boise, Idaho.  He was joined by 12 participants from the Natl. Earthquake Managers program meeting.

Bill started the trip with a short visit to a high school recently retrofitted with external bracing to mitigate shaking from seismic events.  The bracing consisted of an external network of steel(?) beams tied to the outer walls.  It was surprisingly attractive and well suited for the gold brick exterior.

Our next stop provided an overview of the Boise foothills  from S. Federal Way at Apple St.  From here, perched above the New York Canal, which oddly enough is perched above Boise itself, we could pick out three late Quaternary river terraces and see the Boise Ridge boundary range to the north.  The range is uplifted along a suite of normal faults.  Holding up the range at depth is granodiorite of the Idaho Batholith.  Bill was quick to point out two things: 1) there are a whole host of range front faults, and 2) there is no clear evidence for activity in the past 130,000 years.

We traveled next to LuckyPeak dam (1955); one of three dams used to support agriculture in the western Snake River Plain.   We had a quick lunch here and Bill provided some insight into how the three dams on the Boise River are managed to support summer irrigation projects.  On the trip back to town we examined the massive Pleistocene (?) Warm Springs landslide north of the Boise River.  The toe of the slide is now cut by E Warm Springs Avenue  – perhaps not the best of engineering ideas.

We finished the trip at the Freezeout Hill Memorial near Emmett, Idaho.  The Squaw Creek fault visible  in the north extends for 50+ km long and ruptured recently enough to cut across 7700-year old Mazama volcanic ash from the eruption at Crater Lake, Oregon.  The fault probably has the potential to produce a 6- to 7-M earthquake.

What a spectacular way to end an excellent conference.

Mike Conway, 7 April 2011

School with retrofit - note external white beams

Boise Ridge north of Boise, ID

Evolution of Western Snake River Plain by B. Phillips (younging towards the bottom)

Natl. Earthquake Managers – Day 2 contd.

Have you ever heard of ROVER – Rapid Observation of Vulnerability and Estimation of Risk tool? No. Well you soon will.  ROVER is a FEMA product in the final stages of testing.  For those familiar with FEMA 154, a rapid, pre-earthquake tool for evaluating the integrity of building stock, ROVER is destined to replace it.  Launched in 1998(?) as a one-page tool, FEMA 154 has outlived its usefulness.

Diagrammatic cross-section for Cascade subduction zone.

ROVER is a software application for smart phones.  It contains many of the same elements as FEMA 154, but will be faster, more powerful, support electronic capture of multiple images of the same structure, and its digital.  And ROVER, which comes with a post-earthquake evaluation tool, can be integrated with HAZUS, too.  An evaluation tool for all seasons.

Beta testing by contractors examining select Utah schools proved the concept and the software.  Look for FEMA to distribute ROVER in summer 2011.

In other presentations today, Earthquake Managers for California, Idaho, Guam, Arizona, Hawaii, Missouri, and Alaska, among others, presented updates on their outreach activities.  Leaders of the four major earthquake consortiums – Northeast States Emergency Consortium, Central U.S. Earthquake Consortium, Western States Seismic Policy Council, and Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup – followed with reports on their efforts over the past year.

From IFrom Idaho’s earthquake presentation

It was a long two days distilling the state of earthquake preparedness and outreach efforts across the U.S, but it was extraordinarily productive.

Tomorrow morning its “non-structural seismic mitigation training” followed by a field trip through the Boise metropolitan area examining faults and discussing seismic hazards.  Bill Phillips of the IdahoGeological Survey is leading the trip.

Mike Conway, 6 April 2011

Natl. Earthquake Managers – Day 2

Dr. Sandra Knight, FEMA

Among today’s highlights, Dr. Sandra Knight, FEMA’s Deputy Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administrator for Mitigation, addressed the group.  She started off by showcasing statistics of recent earthquakes – the dead, missing, event magnitude, cost, her point: earthquakes are among the most destructive and costly of natural hazards.

And she pointed out that natural hazards do not discriminate.  They strike the rich, the poor, developed and developing nations, rural and urban areas – a true equal opportunity calamity.

Knight who has a background in engineering and more than 20-years with the Army Corps of Engineers, asked the state earthquake managers, “What can I do for you”.   She perceives her role is as an advocate or champion for the nation’s earthquake managers.   And thus she aggressively pitches NEHRP to her fellow administrators at FEMA.

She stressed efficiency of scales, combining natural hazard mitigation and outreach efforts, the power of partnerships, and the importance of rubbing two nickels together.  And she pointed out that the time of doing more with less has passed; resources are too tight, budgets are crumbling and our single best hope is to build working partnerships that permit sharing the load.  She challenged us all to identify priorities – “what keeps you up at night” – and stick to them.

In her final statement she praised the earthquake managers for their successes and accomplishments.  It was a pretty good talk and she eschewed powerpoint slides altogether.  Bravo!

Mike Conway, 6 April 2011

Day 1 – Natl. Earthquake Program Managers Meeting

At 8:00 a.m. today, it was overcast and raining in Boise, Idaho.  The National Earthquake Program Manager’s meeting got to off to a great start, nonetheless.

Ed Laatsch (FEMA) at Natl. EQ Manager's meeting 5 April

David Applegate (USGS) and Ed Laatsch (FEMA) presented an update on NEHRP (National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program).   Among the issues raised in their joint presentation:

  • NEHRP is one of FEMA’s oldest programs at 34-years old;
  • The Japanese earthquake/tsunami is causing some to rethink proposed cuts to NEHRP funding;
  • Proposed budget cuts remain real and gathering threat to earthquake preparedness & mitigation;
  • All of us – federal, state, and county hazard crews – need to continue to broadcast and built on our successes.
  • FEMA’s contribution to building code improvements making U.S. safer;
  • Training, training, training – one avenue is FEMA’s Natl Earthquake Technical Assistance Program (NETAP)
  • Both FEMA and USGS continue to support building partnerships to enlarge pool of stakeholders.

It was a fine presentation and there were no shortage of questions at the end.  A particular intriguing question, and one that seemed particularly relevant in Boise, which resides near several faults capable of producing moderate-sized earthquakes, involved the massive damage at Christchurch:

What lessons can we learn from the Christchurch event of February 2011, where a modest 6.3 M earthquake caused so much destruction?

The answer, of course, is neither simple nor straight-forward.

Michael Mahoney followed the NEHRP presentation with a powerpoint presentation “Issues from Christchurch and Japan”.  This answered some questions and raised others.  Liquefaction played a central damaging role despite the short duration of the event – shaking lasted only 7 seconds; compare that with minutes of shaking for the Great Tohoku earthquake. Some newer, well-engineered buildings were irreparably damaged as one end of the building subsided in the wake of uneven settling.  As usual URM’s – unreinforced masonry structures – were particularly prone to damage.  The Christchurch business district remains cordoned off as civil authorities evaluate the damage done.

As far as we have come in earthquake preparedness and mitigation, it’s clear we have further to go.

Mike Conway, 5 April 2011

WSSPC & Natl. Earthquake Managers Meetings

Western States Seismic Policy Council (WSSPC) meets today at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, for their annual meeting.   For Basin and Range Province states, this afternoon’s two-hour meeting includes a summary report by Mark Stephenson of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security.

Other discussion topics include: constructing an earthquake disaster response manual; enhancing stakeholder networking; and refining definitions of Holocene – Quaternary faulting in the Basin and Range.

The National Earthquake Program Manager’s Meeting follows on the heels of WSSPC, running from Tuesday through Thursday at the Grove Hotel.  Major topics there, include:

  • State Earthquake Program Updates
  • Best Practices Improving Seismic Risk Assessments w/ GIS & Hazus – D. Bausch & Gene Longenecker (FEMA)
  • Lessons learned from New Zealand – Mike Mahoney (FEMA)
  • NEHRP Agency Update – David Applegate (USGS) and Ed Laatsch (FEMA)
  • Open Discussion on pressing issues for State Earthquake programs.

And that’s just Tuesday’s topics!

Mike Conway, 4 April 2011.

U.S. Earthquake Resilience Needs Strengthening

According to the National Academy of Sciences that title characterizes the state of U.S. resilience in the face of a major earthquake.  Following on the heels of the recent 9.0 M earthquake in Japan, the news is a little unsettling, if not unexpected.

The 244-page Academy report, National Earthquake Resilience: Research, Implementation, and Outreach, spells out in detail a 20-year plan for strengthening U.S. resilience.  The plan includes 18-tasks, reprinted below from their news release.  The section titled, “What does an earthquake-resilient community look like? “ (p. 24) seems particularly worthy of review.

Moving forward along the Academy’s 20-year road map requires the collective will to surmount formidable political and budgetary obstacles.  But lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and the Japanese experience should sufficiently motivate the scientific and civic communities to join forces to increase earthquake safety and preparedness in the U.S.

1. Undertake additional research to improve understanding of earthquake phenomena and to increase earthquake-prediction capabilities.

2. Deploy the remaining 75 percent of the Advanced National Seismic System, which provides magnitude and location alerts within a few minutes after an earthquake as well as the basic data for many of the road map tasks.

3. Evaluate, test, and deploy earthquake early-warning systems.

4. Complete coverage of national and urban seismic hazard maps to identify at-risk areas.

5. Develop and implement earthquake forecasting to provide communities with information on how seismic hazards change with time.

6. Develop scenarios that integrate earth science, engineering, and social science information so that communities can visualize earthquake and tsunami impacts and mitigate potential effects.

7. Integrate science, engineering, and social science information in an advanced GIS-based platform to improve earthquake risk assessment and loss estimation.

8. Model expected and improvised emergency response and recovery activities and outcomes to improve pre-disaster mitigation and preparedness.

9. Capture, disseminate, and create a repository of the critical information that describes the geological, structural, institutional, and socio-economic impacts and disaster response after earthquakes occur.

10. Support social sciences research to evaluate mitigation and recovery.

11. Establish an observatory network to measure, monitor, and model the disaster vulnerability and resilience of communities.

12.   Integrate the knowledge gained from many of the tasks to enable accurate simulations of fault rupture, seismic wave propagation through bedrock, and soil-structure interaction to understand the response of buildings and other structures to shaking and compute reliable estimates of financial loss, business interruption, and casualties.

13.  Develop new techniques for evaluating and retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand earthquakes.

14. Enhance performance-based engineering to achieve better building design and enable improved codes and standards for buildings and other structures.

15.  Review and update standards so that critical “lifeline” infrastructure — such as electricity, highways, and water supply — can function following an earthquake.

16. Develop and deploy the next generation of “green” high-performance construction materials and components for use in buildings’ seismic framing systems.

17. Encourage and coordinate technology transfer between the NEHRP and the private sector.

18.  Initiate earthquake resiliency pilot projects in local communities to improve awareness, reduce risk, and enhance emergency preparedness and recovery capacity.

National Academy of Sciences News Release

National Earthquake Resilience: Research, Implementation, and Outreach – 244 p. report

Mike Conway, 1 April 2011

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