- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans may have been lulled into a false sense of security because it’s been so long since the country felt a truly devastating earthquake, but major temblors can and will occur here, the National Research Council warned Wednesday.

The March 11 quake and tsunami that struck Japan illustrate the sort of devastation that can occur even in a well-prepared nation, the council said in a new study.

The council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, urged a 20-year program for increasing U.S. ability to withstand and recover from a major quake.

“The United States will certainly be subject to damaging earthquakes in the future, and some of those earthquakes will occur in highly populated and vulnerable areas,” the report warned.

Moderate earthquakes are not unusual in parts of the United States, but the last “great” earthquake to strike the United States shook Alaska in 1964. Many people also are aware of the devastating quake and fire that affected San Francisco in 1906.

“Just as Hurricane Katrina tragically demonstrated” for hurricanes, the report noted, “coping with moderate earthquakes is not a reliable indicator of preparedness for a major earthquake in a populated area.”

Other major quakes have occurred in the United States include California in 1857; the Memphis, Tenn.-St Louis area in 1811-12; South Carolina in 1886; and Massachusetts in 1755.

Recommendations in the new report include:

_ Install the remaining 75 percent of the Advanced National Seismic System to provide magnitude and location alerts within a few minutes after an earthquake.

_ Complete coverage of national and urban seismic hazard maps to identify at-risk areas.

_ Develop and implement earthquake forecasting to provide communities with information on how seismic hazards change with time.

_ Work to combine Earth science, engineering and social science information so communities can visualize earthquake and tsunami impacts and find ways to reduce potential effects.

_ Plan emergency response and recovery activities to improve preparedness.

_ Establish a network to measure, monitor and model the disaster vulnerability and resilience of communities.

_ Develop new techniques for evaluating and retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand earthquakes.

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