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Wash EMD director boosting the national conversation on earthquake preparedness

Washington EMD director boosting the national conversation on earthquake preparedness

Washington Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle says he’s hoping to elevate what has been a series of regional conversations about earthquake preparedness into a cohesive national one in 2016. Ezelle was recently appointed as chairman of an earthquake subcommittee of the National Emergency Management Association.
Ezelle notes that NEMA, which has a core membership of state directors of emergency management and also includes federal and private sector interests, has long had subcommittees taking a special look at hurricanes and other kinds of natural disasters to improve our nation’s disaster resilience.
“This is really to elevate the conversation about earthquake hazards, some of our nation’s most catastrophic events, to the same level as those other natural disasters,” Ezelle said.

Robert Ezelle Mug shot

Already, the group has an agenda of issues it wants to look at in 2016:

1. Addressing the issue of a national earthquake program on the federal level and outlining what it would look like.

2. Supporting reauthorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program.

3. Working with states that have current projects that contribute to the national discussion on earthquakes in order to capture and disseminate best practices.

4. Supporting further study and implementation of early earthquake warning – education and monitoring.

John Schelling, the Earthquake/Tsunami/Volcano Programs Manager for the state Emergency Management Division, says this is a big step in the right direction for a national focus on earthquake preparedness.

Schelling explains, “The concept of NEHRP is taking research from the U.S. Geological Survey, National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both theoretical and applied, and then working through FEMA to implement this through, to improve stronger building codes,  education and outreach, and, ultimately, community resilience to earthquake disasters. Without the authorization of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program, for instance, the NEHRP agency budgets can get siphoned off into other things. Here we have this great research being done, but not the ability to apply it. It keeps getting short shrift. And that’s where NEMA can play a critical role and how Robert can be in a place to help.”

“We’ll be in a position to shine a spotlight on things that can work and move forward with those,” Ezelle said.

The appointment is timely as Washington state continues to develop a state Earthquake Response Plan which it continues to test, refine and improve. A big national level earthquake exercise is slated for June called Cascadia Rising, which focuses on the potential for a 9.0 earthquake and an accompanying tsunami to hit Washington state.

“The majority of earthquake preparedness and dialogue has been taking place among the consortium of emergency managers having interstate and regional dialogues preparing for events like Cascadia Rising,” Ezelle said.

Besides the West Coast states, another heavily seismic area of concern is along the New Madrid seismic area in the Central U.S., but Ezelle points out that there’s the potential for earthquake hazards all over the country. A 5.8 earthquake rattled Washington, D,C, back in 2011, the strongest East Coast tremor in 67 years and the first time in a century that particular fault line had ruptured that strongly.

Schelling says he hopes earthquakes remain on the brain of national officials, as a result.

“NEMA can now play a more crucial role keeping a broader spectrum of natural disasters at the forefront of Congress,” Schelling said.

“This committee has been in the works for a while.” Ezelle said. “I’m really excited to see it get going in 2016.”