Guidebook Stresses Need To Plan Now To Cut Earthquake Losses

May 04, 1998

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Unlike most authors, University of Illinois professor Robert Olshansky hopes his new book will be widely photocopied. That's because Olshansky and the publisher, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, want the publication's practical information on earthquake-hazard prevention to be distributed to and used by as broad an audience as possible.

"Promoting the Adoption and Enforcement of Seismic Building Codes" was created "to function as a working tool kit to help state officials promote the adoption and enforcement of state and local model building codes that contain the latest seismic provisions," said Olshansky, a professor of urban and regional planning and member of the leadership team that determines policy for the Mid-America Earthquake Center, located at the U. of I. To make the materials accessible and easy to use, the comprehensive guide is designed to be inserted in a three-ring binder. Contents include documentation of past earthquake damage in various locales; technical explanations of ground-shaking and the potential damage to various types of structures; documentation of studies on cost-effectiveness of seismic codes; step-by-step instructions on how to adopt and enforce code provisions; maps and photographs; overheads, brochures and even sample news releases.

The sum of the book's parts underscores the message that seismic codes are "effective, inexpensive, and a good investment for the future of our communities," Olshansky said.

"These codes can reduce the damage that will inevitably occur when future earthquakes strike at-risk parts of the country," he said, noting that most parts of the United States are at risk for some amount of earthquake damage. Unfortunately, he added, many local and state building codes still do not include earthquake-prevention provisions.

"Outside the highest risk areas, such as California, the adoption of seismic code provisions has depended more on the efforts of concerned professionals than on the degree of actual risk," Olshansky said. "And once seismic code provisions have been adopted, communities need to invest in effective enforcement practices. A surprising number of areas have simply ignored this aspect of public safety. Other areas have instituted seismic codes but fallen short of effective enforcement."

Olshansky and FEMA hope to counter such complacency by making the guidebook available for free to a wide range of people -- government officials, community leaders, emergency managers, building-industry professionals and others who can serve as grass-roots advocates for seismic safety and planning. From there, Olshansky hopes these advocates will "go out and give talks to local government bodies and groups such as civic clubs and the League of Women Voters in communities that don't already have seismic sections in their codes, and reinforce the importance of enforcement in places that do."
To request a guidebook, call 217-333-3890 or send e-mail to

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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