Report: U.S. Not Prepared for Major Earthquake

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The National Research Council says the U.S. is not prepared to handle the aftermath of a major earthquake and it points to the government's response to Hurricane Katrina as an example.

The NRC noted in its report released this week that Americans have developed a false sense of security, even though 39 out of 50 states in the U.S. have a moderate to high risk of an earthquake.

The study's authors said Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, showed the U.S. is not resilient enough to bounce back quickly from a major natural disaster in an urban area.

The report was written prior to Japan's March 11 earthquake of magnitude 9.0.

NRC Chairman Robert Hamilton said events related to Japan's earthquake and resulting tsunami show how one problem can trigger another.

"In Japan, the earthquake triggered a tsunami and the tsunami knocked out the power, and the power being out made the nuclear reactor vulnerable," Hamilton said.

"And so a lot of times, when people plan for these events, they do not anticipate a compound event made up of cascading problems that build up," he said.

The last major disastrous quake to hit the United States was the 7.8 magnitude quake in San Francisco in 1906. However, experts say the most dangerous zone for quakes is not in California but in the middle of the country along the New Madrid Fault Line.

"The central U.S. is a hard cold slab. It allows energy to travel very efficiently. In California, the rocks are relatively hot and shattered and energy easily dissipates quicker," the Center for Earthquake Research's Gary Patterson explained.

"If you look at Haiti, Chile, Christchurch and now Japan, I think it would be the question, 'Why aren't we looking at this hazard and why are we not getting ready or prepared for earthquakes?," asked Craig Fugate, a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.

The report recommends an 18-point plan for implementing the U.S. Strategic Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, which Congress came up with in 1977.

Some of the Council's recommendations include designing better building codes and emergency response plans and exercises.

It recommends the U.S. should spend at least $300 million per year during the next five years to become more earthquake-resilient.

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