Thursday, 15 May 2008
Earlier this week, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit southwestern China, claiming thousands of lives and displacing millions more. As rescue missions continue in China and families mourn for those they lost, the government of China must face a stark reality; their infrastructure in this hard-hit region has crumbled. The earthquake destroyed countless pieces of vital national infrastructure, which has drastically complicated efforts to get troops and aid workers into the region and will have long lasting detrimental effects. In some areas, 80% of the town’s roads have been damaged and almost all the bridges have collapsed. Additionally, the Zipingpu dam is in great danger, due to sever cracks from the earthquake. The dam is upriver from Duijangyan, one of the hardest hit cities, which is home to 630,000 people. The Chinese Ministry of Water Resources has said that if the dam fails, the city will be swamped. The devastation caused by an earthquake can seem unimaginable, however in the United States efforts have been made to reduce the risks that may occur from any future earthquakes.
In 1977 Congress established the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, or NEHRP, “to reduce the risk of life and property from future earthquakes”. The goal of NEHRP is to reduce losses by developing effective practices and policies, which will improve our infrastructure’s chance of survival, and thereby reduce both human and economic losses, in the event of an earthquake. NEHRP guarantees collaboration between federal government agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector. The results of this collaboration have proven effective. In comparison to other countries, the loss of human life due to earthquakes has been small and NEHRP results have contributed in significant ways to reduce economic losses. The work done by NEHRP to promote the adoption of earthquake hazards reduction measures by government agencies, standards and codes organizations, and other groups involved in building our infrastructure has been vital to the United States.
Unfortunately, the earthquake in China has shown us that the Chinese government has not enforced the same level of strict building codes in notoriously high risk areas. Prior to 1964, earthquake design codes did not exist in the country and it was not until 1978 that the government enforced these codes. Many of the buildings and schools, in the areas affected, were built before 1978 and therefore were not designed for earthquakes at all. Furthermore, China does not have the funds to retrofit all pre 1978 buildings so that they are up to code. If anything positive can come out of this disaster, hopefully it will be that more countries, including the United States, reinvestigate their infrastructure and invest in more time and money toward “earthquake proofing”.
Visit the ASCE led NEHRP coalition website, www.nehrp.org, to find out more on the program and current legislative activity.