Researchers want more federal earthquake funding

Posted: Friday, May 09, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) The nation should triple funding for earthquake research and protection, a scientist told a congressional committee in Washington.

Researchers also said the federal government should install a web of 6,000 earthquake sensors across the country.

Every year without the sensors, the nation misses data that could help protect against the next massive earthquake, said Lloyd Cluff, director of the geosciences department at Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco.

Thirty years ago, Cluff helped design the trans-Alaska pipeline's support structure at the Denali fault, and he still consults with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. On Nov. 3, the 7.9 magnitude earthquake moved the ground 18 feet horizontally and 2.5 feet vertically at the pipeline's Denali fault crossing, he said.

While the pipeline survived, valuable information did not, Cluff said.

We really missed a big opportunity to get a good recording. All we got was from what we put in on the trans-Alaska pipeline. Thank God we had those,'' Cluff said after the hearing Thursday before a subpanel of the House Science Committee.

Congress authorized up to $35 million annually for an Advanced National Seismic System three years ago, but the actual spending bills have never cut loose more than a few million dollars for the sensors.

The researchers said they aren't seeking ways to predict the timing of earthquakes. But the seismic system could provide better information on faults and ground structures, and it could accurately record the information engineers need to design and retrofit structures, those testifying Thursday said.

The sensors also could quickly give rescuers information about damaged areas following an earthquake.

Cluff said the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the U.S. Geological Survey have some monitoring stations around Alaska.

The federal government has spent millions annually since 1978 in a multi-agency effort called the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program.

The program has developed maps of risk levels, construction standards and ways to assess damage. The methods were used to look at more than 400 buildings in New York City after the World Trade Centers collapsed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Funding for the program has leveled off at $19 million annually in recent years.

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