NR 2003-19
July 15, 2003

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


SACRAMENTO – Separate budget proposals by the Senate Republican Caucus and Assembly Republican Caucus would, if adopted, put public safety at risk by eliminating critical earthquake readiness programs, the Department of Conservation, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and Seismic Safety Commission agree.

“We work closely with the Department of Conservation and Seismic Safety Commission on earthquake preparedness and response, and the cuts that are being proposed are shortsighted,” OES Director Dallas Jones said.

“It’s easy to trivialize the importance of preparation because there hasn’t been a devastating earthquake in California since 1994. But a major earthquake could happen at any time, and if these programs are discontinued, we’ll be sorry.”

The Senate Republican proposal eliminates the Seismic Safety Commission. The Commission’s role is to advise state government in preparing to survive and recover from earthquakes. The Commission ensures that government and lawmakers remain committed and accountable to the public on earthquake policies by coordinating risk reduction efforts within the state’s Earthquake Loss Reduction Plan.

“The Commission is the only state government entity entirely dedicated to this effort,” Seismic Safety Commission Executive Director Richard McCarthy said. “The Commission works closely with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Department of Conservation to enhance their seismic risk reduction efforts.”

The proposal also eliminates General Fund monies to support DOC’s California Geological Survey, which produces maps and data that keeps Californians safe during earthquakes by improving building codes and construction practices. The specific programs that would be impacted:

The Strong Motion Instrumentation Program obtains vital data for the engineering and scientific communities through a statewide network of instruments called accelerographs. These instruments are placed in structures such as high-rise buildings, dams, bridges, hospitals and industrial facilities, as well as in open land. They measure the vertical and horizontal response of structures and the ground in an earthquake. SMIP data has been used to help improve building codes, assist local governments in their general plan process, and aid emergency response personnel in the event of a disaster. The California Geological Survey maintains and monitors about 1,000 accelerographs statewide and ultimately hopes to have about 1,500 instruments in place.

The Seismic Hazard Mapping Program defines zones that are prone to the earthquake-related problems of liquefaction (the failure of water-saturated soil) and landslides. Local governments use these maps to regulate development, requiring builders to take steps to minimize potential hazards. The relatively low-cost mitigation steps this zoning prompts can help prevent the type of damage seen in San Francisco’s Marina District in the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

Zoning is complete or nearly complete in Orange, Ventura and San Francisco counties. Mapping is ongoing in Los Angeles, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, and planned for other parts of the Bay Area.

The Regional Geologic Mapping Program provides much of the baseline data used by other California Geological Survey programs, works with government entities to ensure that schools are safely sited, and produces hazard and loss evaluations – objective studies that ensure earthquake insurance rates are appropriate. The program also produces Alquist-Priolo fault zone maps, which ensure that structures are not built on top of surface faults, and maps of expected ground shaking which are used to determine the design strength of hospitals, schools and commercial structures.

The Senate Republicans’ proposal would end two additional California Geological Survey programs:

The Mineral Resources Program classifies mineral resources, which helps local governments ensure adequate sand and gravel supplies for future development.

The Timber Harvest Program, which helps protect slopes and streams from landslides and erosion.

The Assembly Republicans, meanwhile, propose suspending the Strong Motion Instrumentation Program and Seismic Hazards Mapping Program for one year, which effectively would spell the end of their work.

“The Governor’s proposed budget continues funding for these important programs as well as for the Seismic Safety Commission,” Department of Conservation Director Darryl Young noted. “In a state as seismically active as California, we must always be ready for the next big earthquake. The most recent major quakes in California have killed dozens of people, which is tragic. But earthquakes of the same size kill hundreds or thousands in places around the world that aren’t as well prepared. If we want to avoid that type of disaster, we must continue and even look to expand the work of the California Geological Survey and the Seismic Safety Commission.”