NEWS RELEASE, 10/20/98

University leaders meet with director of FEMA to discuss ways to prevent major losses from disasters

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Representatives from the University of California, Berkeley, and a dozen universities around the country will meet here today (Tuesday, Oct. 20) to launch a nationwide initiative that uses a partnership approach - between the government and the private sector - to protect the country's huge investment in research universities.

Leaders of schools threatened by natural disasters will sit down with James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), representatives from federal agencies and private sector sponsors to discuss a proposal for a Disaster Resistant Universities Initiative. This new effort is similar to FEMA's Project Impact launched last year to create disaster-resistant communities.

Through the new program, FEMA would work with universities to assess their risk in the event of a calamity such as an earthquake, flood or hurricane. It then would help them find federal, state and private partners to fund campus improvements to better withstand such tragedy.

"I am pleased that these university leaders and others here today have taken the initiative to plan for potential disasters," said Witt. "The work undertaken by these universities is vital to this country's economy and to the quality of life. The government as well the private sector need to ensure that their investments in universities and university research are protected."

UC Berkeley is out in front of most universities in planning for a potential disaster. This advanced planning allowed UC Berkeley to compete successfully for a $42 million grant from FEMA's Hazard

Mitigation Grant Program to retrofit four campus buildings. The awarding of the grant to UC Berkeley, announced today by FEMA, the office of U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and the state Office of Emergency Services, was part of the FEMA allocation to deal with the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake.

"We are very grateful that the federal government is investing in preventive programs that help us lessen our losses in the event of a natural disaster," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "These funds, along with university, state and private support, will give a real boost to our efforts to address our massive seismic problems."

Today's meeting is an important step in creating the broad coalition of institutions that will be necessary to secure a national commitment to the Disaster Resistant Universities Initiative proposed by FEMA.

Since last year, when UC Berkeley assessed the seismic safety of its own buildings, Berdahl has met numerous times with FEMA to discuss how best to secure the resources needed to seismically retrofit nearly 100 campus buildings. As a result of UC Berkeley's work in defining its disaster priorities, the campus has designed a retrofit strategy that could be applied to various buildings on campus and has been successful in applying for $42 million for mitigation measures for four buildings.

In addition, the campus is hoping for money from the state of California, in the form of a bond measure - Proposition 1A - on the November ballot. The campus also is approaching private and corporate sources for help. To date, the campus has raised $120 million in private support to retrofit, upgrade or replace buildings deemed seismically poor or very poor.

Because of UC Berkeley's comprehensive and strategic response to its potential for disaster, a response embodied in a 10-point program called SAFER (Seismic Action plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal), FEMA is holding up the campus as a model for other universities.

[See accompanying SAFER summary for more information about the program].

Under FEMA's guidance, and with the input of other universities, UC Berkeley's work over the past year to plan for and secure funding for the seismic retrofitting of its facilities will be documented. This approach should help other universities interested in preparing for a disaster.

FEMA and UC Berkeley also are sharing the cost of a $750,000 study by Mary Comerio, a UC Berkeley professor of architecture, to examine the potential economic losses to the campus, the community and the state if a major earthquake strikes the nearby Hayward Fault. The study will further explore the impact of such a disaster on substantial federal and private research investments in UC Berkeley.

These losses range from rental income in the surrounding community to the loss of specialized collections on the campus, or even the loss of valued faculty who might leave the university if their laboratories are put out of commission.

Comerio and her colleagues hope to create a model for assessing all such losses and use the information to establish campus priorities for retrofitting UC Berkeley's buildings. FEMA plans to broadly distribute Comerio's model to help academic and other kinds of communities deal with their susceptible infrastructure.

The Disaster Resistant University initiative is an extension of the FEMA director's commitment to taking preventive measures before a costly disaster occurs.

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