The Issuance Of Earthquake "Predictions:" Scientific Approaches And Public Policy Strategies

Nigg, Joanne M.
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Disaster Research Center
The effectiveness of earthquake prediction as a tool for reducing earthquake impacts depends, in part, on developing community response plans that can be implemented when predictions are issued. The overarching policy issue--how to lessen earthquake losses to the built environment and social systems by disseminating forewarnings of future damaging earthquake events--has continued to be the focus of governmental efforts to deal with scientific forecasts (e.g., FEMA 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1995) but the specific strategies considered have varied, often due to changes in scientific approaches to prediction. This case study will trace the interwoven strands of scientific approaches and policy responses to earthquake predictions during the past 25 years, beginning in the early 1970s until today. The State of California has been the focus for concentrated research--in both earth science and social science--on earthquake prediction during this period; however, federal policy has had an important role in identifying priorities for both scientists and state and local government officials with respect to the manner in which earthquake predictions would impact upon society.