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April 29, 2010 - ASCE Statement - FY2011 Appropriations

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Statement of the
To the Subcommittee on Homeland Security
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
On Appropriations for the
Federal Emergency Management Agency
For the Fiscal Year 2011

ASCE is pleased to offer this testimony on the proposed budgets for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Fiscal Year 2011. ASCE would like to specifically address the Dam Safety Program, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program.

I. The American Society of Civil Engineers

ASCE, founded in 1852, is the country’s oldest national civil engineering organization representing more than 144,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry and academia dedicated to the advancement of the science and profession of civil engineering. ASCE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational and professional society.

II. The National Dam Safety Program

ASCE respectfully requests that the Subcommittee fully fund the National Dam Safety Program at $11 million in FY 2011. ASCE further requests that there be a line item in the DHS budget that clearly identifies the funds be used to carry out mandates authorized in the National Dam Safety and Security Act of 2006.

The National Dam Safety Program Act of 1996 (PL 104-303) created the first national program that focused on improving the safety of the nation’s dams. Congress reauthorized the program through the National Dam Safety and Security Act of 2006 (PL 109-460) and made modest increases in the authorized funds. This small yet critical program provides much needed assistance to the state dam safety programs in the form of grant assistance, training and research; and through facilitating the exchange of technical information between federal dam safety partners and the states. The program provides $38.7 million over five years in grant assistance to states based on the relative number of dams in each state. The grants may be utilized to best suit the individual state’s needs. In addition, the National Dam Safety Program provides $3.25 million over five years to be used for training of state dam safety engineers and $9 million over five years for research. These research funds are used to identify more effective methods of evaluating the safety of dams and more efficient techniques to repair dams. And now, these research funds can be used to develop better methods to assess and improve the security of dams.

There are over 84,000 dams in the United States, but the responsibility of assuring their safety falls largely on the shoulders of the states, as they regulate 89% of the country’s dams. Because of limited staff and funding, most states are overwhelmed by that challenge. Currently states have identified over 4,000 dams as being deficient, or unsafe, and the number is expected to increase as dams age and downstream development continues. Unsafe means that they have identified deficiencies that make the dam more susceptible to failure, which may be triggered by a large storm event, an earthquake or simply through inadequate maintenance or outdated protection standards.

There are over 13,000 dams classified as high hazard potential meaning that the consequences of the dam’s failure will likely include loss of human life and significant downstream property damage. According to the National Inventory of Dams, more than 50% of the high hazard potential dams have not been inspected in the last ten years. High hazard potential dams should be inspected every year.

ASCE’s 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave Dams in the United States a grade of “D.” By the year 2020, more than 85 percent of all dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old, the typical useful lifespan.

Downstream development within the dam failure flood zone places more people at risk. When homes are built in the dam failure flood zone below a low hazard dam, (low hazard: failure is not expected to cause loss of life or significant property damage) the dam no longer meets dam safety criteria as the potential consequences of a failure now include loss of life.

There is a clear need for continued federal leadership to provide assistance in support of dam safety. This country suffered several large and tragic dam failures in the 1970s that focused attention on dams and prompted Congress to pass national dam safety legislation. In 1972, the Buffalo Creek Dam in West Virginia failed and killed 125 individuals; in 1976 the Teton Dam failure in Idaho caused $1 billion in damages and 14 deaths; the Kelly Barnes Dam in Toccao Falls, Georgia failed in 1977 killing 39 Bible college students; also in 1977 40 people died from the failure of the Laurel Run Dam in Pennsylvania; and in 1996 the 38 foot tall Meadow Pond Dam in Alton, New Hampshire failed killing one woman and causing $8 million in damage.

The National Dam Safety Program has been very successful in assisting the state programs. The training program is one aspect of this success. This training provides access to technical courses and workshops that state engineers could not otherwise attend. Examples include Dambreak Analysis, Concrete Rehabilitation of Dams, Slope Stability of Dams, Earthquake Analysis, Emergency Action Planning and many others including recent training in Dam Site Security. Training courses are also offered through FEMA’s training facility at their Emergency Management Institute in Maryland where state dam safety inspectors receive training at no cost to the states.

The Research Program is an important program to all within the dam safety community. Its funds have been used to identify future research needs such as inspections using ground penetrating radar or risk analysis. In addition, these funds have been used to create a national library and database of dam failures and dam statistics at the National Performance of Dams Program at Stanford University as well as a national clearinghouse and library of dam safety bibliographic data at ASDSO.

Research funds are currently being used to provide security training, security assessment tools and best management practices for states to utilize in addressing potential terrorists actions against the approximately 75,000 non-federal dams. The increase in the funding levels authorized by the 2006 act was intended to address dam site security. Dam site security is now an urgent area of concern for state dam safety officials both in training needs and in research to better understand and respond to potential threats to dams.

It is encouraging to see that appropriations last year fully funded the National Dam Safety Program for the first time and we urge Congress to once again appropriate full funding for the program.

III. Hazard Mitigation

Within FEMA, and other Federal agencies, there exist a number of small but critical programs designed to mitigate the impact of natural disasters. These critical programs such as the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program and others hold the potential to save countless lives and billions of dollars. These programs deserve Congress’s full attention and funding.

Each year, the United States suffers an estimated $52 billion (NIST) in property damage, disruption of commerce, and lost lives due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes. A single major event—a big earthquake or hurricane— could cause some $80 billion to $200 billion in economic losses in the affected areas. The tragedy caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005 underscores the growing risk to society from natural disasters.

IV. National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

ASCE supports the inclusion of a line item in the appropriations to the full funding level contained in the reauthorization for FY 2011 of $10.5 million for NEHRP responsibilities at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). ASCE also support the $100 budget request for the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund 

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) has provided the resources and leadership that have led to significant advances in understanding the risk earthquakes pose and the best ways to counter them. Under NEHRP, there has been a constant source of funding for seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, code development, mitigation and emergency preparedness. A recent study and report by the Multihazard Mitigation Council entitled “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves: An Independent Study to Assess the Future Savings from Mitigation Activities,”, has concluded the money spent on reducing the risk of natural hazards is a sound investment. On average, a dollar spend by FEMA on hazard mitigation provides the nation about $4 in future benefits. The type of research to be conducted under this program has the potential to increase the benefit greatly.

Under NEHRP, there has been a constant source of funding for seismic monitoring, mapping, research, testing, code development, mitigation and emergency preparedness. It has served as the backbone for protecting U.S. citizens, their property and the national economy from the devastating effects of large earthquakes. Although NEHRP is well known for its research programs, it is also the source for hundreds of new technologies, maps, design techniques and standards that are used by design professionals every day to mitigate hazards risks that will save lives, protect property, and reduce adverse economic impacts.

NEHRP is of direct benefit to homeland security. It provides a framework for safeguarding our communities from a multitude of threats that include natural hazards, severe accidents, and terrorism. It is the source for hundreds of new technologies, maps, design techniques, and construction standards. In spite of all the good activities that have been stimulated and supported by NEHRP, the United States continues to face an earthquake risk that is unacceptably high and growing. FEMA estimates that 45 states and territories are destined to experience earthquake damage. This exposure has been estimated to equal an annualized loss of over $6 billion per year, with a single event loss potential of $100 to $200 billion and tens of thousands of casualties. (FEMA 2001, adjusted to 2004 dollars) NEHRP’s ability to expand monitoring, research and the development of tools that will significantly improve the nation’s ability to address the problem is limited by the funds that have been appropriated and actually spent on earthquake mitigation.

The earthquakes that have affected the United States during the past 20 years have demonstrated that the nation needs to reconsider how much damage is acceptable in a major earthquake. Traditional thinking has held that communities need only assure that people are safe and able to exit damaged buildings after the shaking stops, with little regard to the economic disruption caused by the destruction. Current thinking recognizes that higher performance objectives are appropriate for certain classes of buildings. For example, hospitals and emergency response support facilities, transportation systems and other infrastructure networks should be designed to remain operational. High value manufacturing facilities should be designed to be easily repairable and residential construction should be designed to remain safe to occupy. These changes have led to the emergence of Performance Based EarthquakeEngineering design standards that direct development of cost effective and affordable solutions in the design of buildings to predictable performance levels. Nearly $1 trillion dollars is spent each year on the construction of buildings, transportation, and infrastructure systems in the United States. The total value of construction in the nation is about $7.5 trillion dollars. The development of new performance based engineering standards will directly affect the safety and reliability of this extraordinary investment in new and existing construction.

V. National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program at FEMA

In October 2004 the President signed Public Law 108-360 authorizing the creation of the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. As recent events on the Nation’s Gulf coast have so vividly illustrated, the nation remains highly vulnerable to major windstorms. We have not yet fully calculated the full the damage inflected in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, but it will well exceed $100 billion (National Science Board).

ASCE support the inclusion of a $9.9 million line item for the National Windstorm Impact Reduction program responsibilities at FEMA as provided for in H.R. 3820, “The Natural Hazards Risk Reduction Act.

This vulnerability was recognized by Congress in 2004 when it created the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program. However, while the program has been authorized for FY 2006 through FY 2008, there has been no appropriation of funds or specific budget request.

Once again, thank you for the opportunity for ASCE to express its views. If you need more information, contact Martin Hight, ASCE Senior Manager of Government Relations at (202) 326-5125 or by e-mail at