Every year millions of Americans face the terrifying consequences of natural disasters. While uncommon, the earthquake hazard of the New York City metropolitan area has been assessed as moderate by the United States Geological Survey. Considering population density and the condition of the region's infrastructure and building stock, it is clear that even a moderate earthquake would have considerable consequences in terms of public safety and economic impact. In spite of this, earthquake awareness is relatively low among key public agencies and private corporations. Consequently, a detailed seismic vulnerability study to estimate the magnitude of potential losses has never been carried out. While disasters cannot be avoided, there are ways to reduce the risk of property loss and injuries through hazard mitigation. Project Impact, a national initiative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), challenges local communities to assess their risks to natural disasters and adapt appropriate measures to reduce them. With FEMA resources, loss estimation software, known as HAZUS has been developed to assist communities in this process. HAZUS uses geographic information systems to model the built environment against the backdrop of possible natural disasters. It is one type of tool, which affords decision-makers a method to assess risk by quantifying potential losses.
A forecast of the type of losses that the area could suffer after an earthquake is the subject of a new study funded by FEMA Region II and coordinated by the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), headquartered at the University at Buffalo. The New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation (NYCEM), will carry out the multi-year $250,000 study. The study will focus on New York City and the adjacent regions of New York State and New Jersey. The aim of the loss estimation project is to provide a framework for businesses and agencies to take mitigative action to reduce potential damage and losses which might be experienced after an earthquake or other natural disaster. The initial stages of the project will involve fact-finding and assessment, with the development of soils maps and building inventories. An objective for 1999 will be to carry out an initial risk characterization for Manhattan below 59th Street. Similar efforts will be carried out in parallel for northern New Jersey and downstate New York. In remaining years, the effort will focus on expanding the database to include information on lifelines and other elements of the urban infrastructure. A continual goal will be to promote the private-public cooperation spawned by the Consortium to increase regional appreciation for improved pre-event preparedness and post-event response.
The Consortium is an umbrella group of interested organizations and major public and private stakeholders from such areas as emergency management, public service, engineering and architecture, the financial and insurance arenas and academia. As active participants in the program, the members will work together to mobilize contributions of data and information about area building stock, supporting infrastructures and socioeconomic systems. When viewed in context with additional information about regional geology and seismic hazards, the model will serve as one tool which can be used to identify areas, structures and systems at highest risk. It is expected that the activities of Consortium will stimulate broader community interest in joining this important effort.
When completed, the model will enable emergency management officials, business owners, facilities managers and others to address vulnerabilities and to begin development of plans to reduce their respective exposures to earthquake risk. Recognizing a growing need to adopt an all-hazards approach to mitigation, this will be a first step toward development of a robust disaster management program. With a solid foundation of accurate regional data, the modeling approach can be extended to other hazards such as hurricanes to further improve the disaster resiliency of the metropolitan area. All in all, contributing to a safer community.