- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) - A new study in Kentucky says U.S. Geological Survey maps overstate the earthquake hazard for the central United States, resulting in overly stringent building codes and policies.

That conclusion is from the Kentucky Geological Survey at the University of Kentucky, The Paducah Sun (https://bit.ly/2ePkQi5) reported.

“We don’t have a lot of earthquakes of any significant size in the New Madrid Seismic Zone here in the central United States, so we don’t have enough experience with damaging earthquakes to be able to determine a whole lot about them,” said Mike Lynch, a KGS spokesman.

“So what often happens is those researchers who look at this have to default to calculations based on results and conditions in other parts of the country, particularly the West Coast,” Lynch said. “The first big takeaway (from the study) is the way that hazard has been assessed in the central U.S., we don’t think is appropriate for what goes on here.”

The overstated hazard for the central U.S. leads to reduced economic development and higher insurance costs, the study said.

“Building codes, insurance rates and other public policies, based on what we believe is a flawed application of the hazard assessment, are overstated,” Lynch said.

The study said the New Madrid Seismic Zone earthquake hazard should be revised on national seismic hazard maps.

Its recommendations also include providing education for structural design and construction professionals, as well as to help with emergency response plans and preparation activities.

“We’re not suggesting there is no seismic hazard. There is,” Lynch said. “We simply think that the national hazard maps, and therefore the policies and codes that are derived from them, are overstated.

“We want to be prepared for an earthquake as well as other natural hazards and related disasters,” he said. “We’re hoping it (the study) can provide a little impetus at the civic, government and political level to push for more appropriate public policies, building codes and insurance rates that reflect what we know and don’t know.”

Steve Doolittle, executive director of the Paducah Riverfront Development Authority, is among area officials noted in the study who have worked with researchers on the issue.

“It’s important to us here because building codes in west Kentucky generally cause construction - both residential and commercial - to be more expensive because of the additional heroics necessary to meet the supposed seismic conditions,” Doolittle said. “It’s not true just in Paducah, it’s all of western Kentucky.”

According to Doolittle, what starts out as an international building code eventually becomes the Kentucky building code, which incorporates seismic risk areas from the USGS.

“It ends up in the building code adopted by the states and handed down to the local government to enforce,” Doolittle said. “It’s not something Paducah made up.”

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Information from: The Paducah Sun, https://www.paducahsun.com

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