Legislature(1997 - 1998)

03/19/1998 08:02 AM House STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 408 - SEISMIC HAZARDS SAFETY COMMISSION                                     
Number 0295                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES announced the next order of business is HB 408, "An Act            
establishing the Alaska Seismic Hazards Safety Commission,"                    
sponsored by Representative Davies.                                            
REPRESENTATIVE DYSON asked if it was her intention on moving it out            
CHAIR JAMES replied she didn't know because they haven't heard it.             
If we get done in time, and we're happy with it certainly we could             
vote on it.                                                                    
Number 0303                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN DAVIES, Alaska State Legislature, presented HB
408 and distributed a map which illustrates Alaska as "earthquake              
country."  He mentioned we have some of the largest earthquakes in             
the world.  The map lists the ten largest earthquakes that have                
occurred in the world in the last century or so.  As you can see               
three of those ten have occurred in Alaska, of course everybody is             
familiar with the 1964 earthquake that occurred in Anchorage.                  
     TOP TEN QUAKES IN THE WORLD, 1904-1992:                                   
          Chile, 1960, 9.5                                                     
          Alaska, 1964, 9.2                                                    
          Alaska, 1957, 9.1                                                    
          Kamchaka, 1952 9.0                                                   
          Ecuador, 1906 8.8                                                    
          Alaska, 1965, 8.7                                                    
          Assam, 1950, 8.6                                                     
          Banda Sea, 1938, 8.5                                                 
          Chile, 1922, 8.5                                                     
          Kuriles, 1963, 8.5                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES indicated the point of the map is to say                 
that, while that was the second largest earthquake that occurred in            
recorded history, that's not an unusual earthquake for Alaska.  So             
the point is, we should expect earthquakes to occur in the future.             
How often they occur and where they occur is a subject of a lot of             
research, some of which he was engaged in years ago.                           
Number 0327                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES said the purpose of the bill is to establish             
a "Seismic Hazard Commission."  The commission would be housed in              
the Office of the Governor.  The purpose would be to provide an                
umbrella, coordinating and clearinghouse kind of function for                  
seismic hazard mitigation work.  He said seismic hazard mitigation             
work is the work that is focused on both the design of buildings               
and locating buildings in such a way that damage that occurs, when             
the next earthquake occurs, will be minimized.  So it's sort of the            
prevention versus response kind of issue.  He said we can prevent              
a lot of damage if we have appropriate building codes, we can also             
prevent loss of lives if have appropriate building codes and land-             
use plans.                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES explained the commission would focus on                  
trying to implement those ideas and coordinate them across agencies            
in the state.  He said there currently is a significant amount of              
work going on, but it's mostly ad hoc.  It's by one agency or the              
other, private groups, the Anchorage "Geotech" Commission does a               
lot of good work, but that focuses, of course in Anchorage.                    
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES said there's another commission that's the               
response commission that currently exists, and again, that's for               
planning for response.  He indicated these are very closely related            
but are two different functions.  One is to prevent as much as                 
possible (indisc. - noise) the need for a response in case of an               
earthquake.  So we do need to plan for responses because we will               
have earthquakes, they will be damaging, there will be injuries and            
loss of lives, so the planning function is very important.                     
Representative Davies said that's already taken care of in the                 
existing statutes, what he's contemplating here is the prevention              
Number 0360                                                                    
ROD COMBELLICK, Chief Engineering Geology, Division of Geological              
and Geophysical Surveys, Department of Natural Resources, testified            
in support of HB 408 via teleconference.  He said, "From my                    
perspective, as one who works primarily in the area of earthquake              
geology, finding out where these areas are that are more                       
susceptible to earthquake damage, I think this is an important bill            
and a seismic safety commission for Alaska is long over due."                  
MR. COMBELLICK said, as Representative Davies indicated, Alaska is             
one of the most seismically active areas in the world.  He noted               
we've been lucky for the last 34 years that we have not had any                
significant damage from earthquakes since the big one in 1964.                 
However, Alaska is like a big dartboard for earthquakes and our                
communities are at the center of that dartboard.  We've had a lot              
of large earthquakes occurring, many earthquakes in the magnitude              
of the six and seven range that fortunately have been occurring                
away from our developed areas, but like shooting toward a                      
dartboard, eventually one of those darts hits a target and it's                
only a matter of time before one of these large earthquakes hits               
one of our developed areas.  Mr. Combellick stated these urban                 
areas are expanding and we know we can expect this high rate of                
seismic activity to continue, that there will be future large                  
earthquakes in Alaska, which virtually guarantees that one of these            
urban areas will be hit.                                                       
Number 0387                                                                    
MR. COMBELLICK pointed out Alaska is doing pretty well in the area             
of emergency response preparedness primarily through the efforts of            
the Division of Emergency Services, the Emergency Response                     
Commission, and through the Alaska Disaster Act.  But we're way                
behind in the area of mitigation - things that we can do to prevent            
damage and thereby reduce the need for emergency response.  Alaska             
in fact is the only seismically active state in the country that               
still does not have a seismic safety or advisory commission of some            
sort.  Ironically the first seismic safety commissions that were               
established, starting with California, began as a result of the                
Alaska 1964 earthquake.  People realized that this is a reality                
that was going to have to be addressed and that, although as                   
Representative Davies pointed out, we cannot predict the time,                 
size, or location of major earthquakes.  We can identify areas                 
where the damage is likely to be greater, and therefore we can plan            
and design our developments accordingly with proper building codes,            
zoning ordinances, and just better public information.                         
MR. COMBELLICK mentioned there are presently 20 other states that              
have seismic advisory boards of some sort, including states in what            
we generally regard as low-seismic areas like Vermont, Illinois,               
Delaware and New York.  These states all have seismic advisory                 
boards, and these are separate from their own state emergency                  
response commissions.  He stated it's because of this need to focus            
the efforts of seismic mitigation in one body.                                 
MR. COMBELLICK concluded, he said he thinks that this bill is                  
important in establishing a statewide seismic advisory commission,             
we have a number of agencies doing different things in this area of            
seismic hazards, with no-rule coordination, no real guiding force              
to guide us in what direction we should go in these efforts.  He               
indicated the "geotechnical advisory commission," of the                       
Municipality of Anchorage is a good model of something that could              
be done on a statewide basis.  Mr. Combellick said he believes the             
governor's office is an appropriate place for this commission                  
because of this need for coordination of many state and local                  
Number 0427                                                                    
NICO BUS, Manager of Administrative Services, Department of Natural            
Services, and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs                  
[shared position] came before the committee.  Mr. Bus announced the            
Department of Natural Resources is in support of this legislation              
in terms of providing extra expertise in earthquakes, and those                
types of hazards.  He indicated Director Carol Carrol isn't able to            
attend due to an emergency.                                                    
MR. BUS said the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs,                  
Division of Emergency Services, they have a staff of two                       
individuals, a hazard mitigation officer and an earthquake program             
(indisc.) are responsible for identifying areas of danger and                  
methods to avoid or reduce the damage.  (Indisc.) works with local             
communities on these projects, and a commission like this would                
basically add a source of information to this division as well as              
the state Emergency Response Commission.  The Emergency Response               
Commission resides in the Department of Environmental Conservation             
and has a different focus.  Although they are responsible for oil              
hazards, he belies a commission like this would just provide added             
expertise and it would be beneficial to all people on this earth.              
CHAIR JAMES said she has a question on the fiscal note and the                 
amendment.  She stated the amendment says the Officer of the                   
Governor shall provide staff support to the commission.  And the               
fiscal note from the Office of the Governor assumes a "fourth-time"            
clerical staff will support commission activities as technical                 
support needs will be met by existing staff in the Department of               
Natural Resources.  Chair James mentioned, "They don't need                    
anymore, but they need a 'fourth-time' clerical staff in the Office            
of the Governor."                                                              
Number 0460                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES said, "Yesterday, in fact is, I have a bill which would            
license social workers, and I was in the Labor and Commerce                    
Committee with that and we heard testimony from Catherine Reardon              
[Director, Division of Occupational Licensing, Department of                   
Commerce and Economic Development] -- because originally they told             
me, in my negotiations, how we did the bill - wouldn't have a                  
fiscal note.  But she came forward with a fiscal note for half-time            
and when she explained to us how much time she needed, probably                
additionally for the licensees there, and it came up to maybe 23               
percent or whatever, but she said she was told she couldn't do                 
four-quarters of a person, she had to do for half.  So I assume                
this looks like a half here too, but you're saying it's a quarter              
of time of clerical staff. ... So I'm wondering, if all they need              
is a quarter, if they couldn't just absorb it.  And so, I don't                
have to deal with a fiscal note here.  They can deal with the                  
fiscal note when it gets to Finance.  But I think we do have to                
kind of take a look at it and make comments about it anyway because            
if it only requires a quarter of the time for clerical staff, it               
seems to me like that needs to be then absorbed."                              
Number 0476                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ made a motion to adopt Amendment 1 by                 
Representative Davies:                                                         
     Page 2, line 4, insert:                                                   
     The Office of the Governor shall provide staff support to the             
CHAIR JAMES asked if there were any objections.  There being none,             
Amendment 1 was adopted.                                                       
CHAIR JAMES noted the other fiscal note from Division of Geological            
and Geophysical Surveys, the Department of Natural Resources, is               
just for travel - a couple thousand dollars.                                   
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES pointed out the fiscal note is redundant with            
the travel that's in the Office of the Governor and will be                    
resolved when the bill gets to the House Finance Committee.                    
CHAIR JAMES said the committee can move it only with the other                 
fiscal note.                                                                   
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ added that it can be moved with both                  
fiscal notes.                                                                  
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES said he didn't object.                                   
Number 0490                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ mentioned he grew up in California and                
this type of preparedness is absolutely essential.  He stated the              
property value saved, the loss of life, it's just incredible that              
we're not making preparations and it seems one of the core things              
that the government ought to be doing is to protect people in the              
contingency in this sort of an emergency.                                      
CHAIR JAMES said she agrees with his statement and intends to move             
the bill.  She indicated her hesitancy is when we put on another               
level of regulations and requirements that we inhibit some                     
activities that may not happen or are too expensive.  She said you             
could say, if you're going to make yourself safe, that there's no              
expense that's too much.  She asked Representative Davies what he              
anticipates, what kind of interference or change might he see in               
the construction industry in the state.                                        
Number 0505                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES replied that's a fair question, that's one               
that, of course, one struggles with all the time in prevention-type            
activities.  How much prevention is appropriate?  He noted there is            
a provision at the end of the bill that provides that this                     
commission would not take over responsibilities or duties away from            
any existing agencies.  So the intent in that is to say that                   
there's no additional regulations that would be put in place by                
this advisory commission.  The intent is that it be a catalyst for             
action.  So rather than being in the way of anything happening, the            
hope is that it would bring people together that are working on                
different pieces of the same puzzle and put it together.                       
     Sec. 5. This Act is not intended to transfer the Alaska                   
     Seismic Hazards Safety Commission the authorities and                     
     responsibilities of other state agencies, boards, councils, or            
     commissions or of local governments.                                      
CHAIR JAMES asked if it would be awareness.                                    
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES replied part of it is certainly awareness.               
One of its activities, that does go on from time to time, is having            
workshops where you bring for example structional engineers                    
together and coach them and train them in a new addition to                    
building code or that kind of thing.  That's one of the activities             
that is actually done currently to some extent by some folks in                
"DES" and also by some, under the sponsorship of the Anchorage                 
Geotech Advisory Commission from time to time.  He said these                  
things are happening now, but on an ad hoc basis, here and there.              
They need to be strengthened and they need to be coordinated.  He              
said he thinks by bringing the existing pieces together, that the              
existing parts would make a stronger hold.                                     
Number 0532                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE IVAN IVAN said the only concern he has is with the              
role of private companies, with their architectural plans.  He                 
asked, "Must they do the same thing as you do with the fire                    
marshall, approving buildings prior -- will we get to that point."             
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES replied the way that most seismic hazard                 
mitigation is implemented is primarily through the building code or            
through land use planning which happens right now.  This wouldn't              
change that.  This commission would be an advisory to those                    
existing mechanisms of building codes.  And generally, if you add              
a requirement to the building code, and you know about it up front,            
it adds very little cost.  If you have to retrofit, at some time               
later down the road, it can be very expensive.  He mentioned that              
is one of the issues that California is struggling with right now,             
there's a great issue for example with unreinforced masonry, many              
of those buildings are through various incentive programs.                     
California is helping building owners retrofit some of those kinds             
of buildings.  Those things can be expensive but the cost is                   
recognized in those things, the building owners recognize that they            
are reducing their exposure and risk to law suites by doing that.              
So there's a tradeoff that has to be balanced in the impact of a               
regulation on an industry.  Representative Davies said there's no              
new mechanism envisioned by having this commission it's just that              
this commission will be advisory to those existing mechanisms that             
provide for building codes and for land use plans.                             
Number 0560                                                                    
CHAIR JAMES stated she is troubled with the building code issue                
because "we change them like we change our shirt," and then we end             
up having buildings out of compliance.  She indicated that's always            
bothered her, we know things more tomorrow than we do know today.              
She said it seems to her like we just have a practice of upgrading             
them all the time to new materials mostly.  She said she believes              
the building codes are driven by the supply industry of new                    
materials and things that they find, or new methods that they've               
learned.  So it doesn't necessarily mean, when there's a code                  
violation that there's a serious deficiency in the building.  It               
seems like we're just going to add one more reason that we'll be               
changing our code more often and she hoping that that's not true.              
REPRESENTATIVE DAVIES replied he is sure that happens but he                   
doesn't think it's as common as perhaps she implied.  He said he               
thinks most of the codes are driven through professional                       
organizations like the Structural Engineers Association.  They're              
national and international groups, they go out, and one of the                 
things that happens after a large earthquake for example is a team             
of engineers goes out and examines what happened and they learn                
lessons.  And then those lessons learned are digested through many             
professional meetings and then are promulgated then as code                    
revisions.  They're saying, "Look, we did this wrong, we didn't tie            
these beams together properly," so the next revision of the code               
ought to provide for a flange in that kind of a joint.  So those               
kinds of issues, and lessons learned, are then brought forward and             
we do learn things as time goes on and that's the natural                      
progression of why codes change.  Representative Davies said he                
believes we also generally provide for grand fathering, that a                 
building is built under a particular code is legal and safe and                
everything as long as the building doesn't get substantially                   
changed.  If a substantial amount money is going to be invested to             
modify the building, or something like that, then usually the                  
requirement is to bring the building up to code if it is a viable              
thing to do financially.                                                       
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ said most of his experience with this has             
been retrofitting houses, it's easy to put in shear walls and bolt             
the house down to the foundation, which is all you need to do for              
most places and take care of the unreinforced masonry problem.  He             
said those seem to be the big three of what to do, and indicated               
that's not a real problem up here.                                             
Number 0597                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE BERKOWITZ made a motion to move HB 408 as amended               
with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note.                      
CHAIR JAMES asked if there were any objections.  Hearing none, CSHB
408 (STA) moved from the House State Affairs Standing Committee.               

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