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7.5: The Role of State and Local Government

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    • 7.5.1: Introduction
      Although the president can declare a disaster without consulting the governor or local officials, the role of the federal government is largely advisory. It is the states and their counties, cities, and multi-city governments that must establish and carry out policy regarding earthquakes. The USGS can advise the governor about earthquakes, and NOAA can advise about tsunamis, but the final call must be from the governor and from local elected officials.
    • 7.5.2: California
      In 1853, five years after the start of the Gold Rush, a state geological survey was organized, with a prominent physician and geologist, John B. Trask, as the first state geologist. Three years later, Trask, also a co-founder of the California Academy of Natural Sciences, began publishing compilations of earthquakes that had struck California. This was not to alert people to the hazard, but to show “that California quakes were no more severe or frequent than those felt on the East Coast.”
    • 7.5.3: Oregon
      The Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM), a division of the Oregon State Police, is the state counterpart to FEMA. OEM assists local governments in planning and education, including the identification of hazards and technical advice. In addition to coordinating the state tsunami and earthquake programs, OEM manages disaster-recovery activities including public assistance and hazard mitigation grants. Grants were awarded for the retrofit of schools after the 1993 Scotts Mills Earthquake.
    • 7.5.4: Washington
      The Washington counterpart of FEMA and coordinator of the Washington Earthquake Program is the Emergency Management Division (EMD), part of the Washington Military Department. A Seismic Safety Committee, part of the Emergency Management Council, reviews state earthquake strategies, with the most recent update in February 2002, after the Nisqually Earthquake. The EMD collaborates with FEMA in offering courses to the public and private sector on using the HAZUS loss estimation modeling software.
    • 7.5.5: British Columbia
      The Provincial Emergency Program (PEP) is the responsibility of the attorney general of British Columbia. An Earthquake Preparedness Section has been organized within this program; this includes a multidisciplinary Seismic Safety Committee. As of 2003, a resource pool drawn from several Provincial ministries makes up the Temporary Emergency Assignment Management System (TEAMS), which manages the government’s response to any hazard, including earthquakes.
    • 7.5.6: Building Codes
      One of the most important steps that can be taken by a community in defending itself against earthquakes is upgrading its building codes. Most codes are written such that a structure built under a seismic code should resist a minor earthquake without damage and resist severe earthquakes without collapse of the building. Building codes place life safety over property damage. They establish minimum standards based on average soil conditions.
    • 7.5.7: Grading Ordinances and Regulation of Building Sites
      Building codes deal with the safety of buildings, but how about the site on which the building is constructed? A good example of a poor building site is the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower itself is in good shape, but the soils beneath the building are unable to hold it up, and it has settled differentially, causing it to lean. A perfectly sound building is unsafe if it’s built on a landslide, on a sea cliff subject to wave erosion, on soils subject to liquefaction, or on an active fault.
    • 7.5.8: Other State Agencies
      The California State Department of Insurance licenses and regulates insurance companies and manages a privately financed earthquake insurance plan, the California Earthquake Authority. This plan is discussed in detail in Chapter 10. Caltrans has the responsibility of maintaining the state’s highways and bridges, and it funds research in earthquake engineering, particularly the earthquake resistance of bridges and overpasses.
    • 7.5.9: Universities
      Until the 1960s, most earthquake research was done at the universities, including the establishment of seismograph networks at the University of Washington, University of California at Berkeley, University of Nevada, and Caltech, in contrast to Canada, where seismography was always a responsibility of the federal government. As noted above, seismographs were considered to be an academic pursuit at the University of Washington.
    • 7.5.10: Regional Organizations
      The Western States Seismic Policy Council (WSSPC) is a partnership of emergency managers and state geoscience organizations working on earthquake hazard mitigation, earthquake preparedness, emergency response, and recovery. It includes all the five western states, British Columbia, Yukon, and Pacific island territories. Federal agencies that are part of WSSPC include the Department of Transportation, FEMA, NOAA, and USGS.
    • 7.5.11: A Final Word
      The people of California, spurred by disastrous earthquakes in 1933, 1971, 1989, and 1994, have enacted the strongest earthquake laws in the United States, and, indeed, in the world. If a fault is active, you can’t build on it. If an area has a tendency to slide during earthquakes, you’ll have to do a lot of remedial engineering to place a building on it. And if you’re selling a property next to an active fault, you’ll have to tell the buyer about the problem.

    This page titled 7.5: The Role of State and Local Government is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert S. Yeats (Open Oregon State) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.