America seems to have an earthquake investment gap, paying billions more annually on average to recover from earthquakes than it invests to prevent losses beforehand. Two large studies for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Geological Survey (USGS) offer insight into how well American buildings will resist future catastrophic earthquakes. They suggest that the public prefers new buildings to do more than to assure life safety, which has been the building code’s historic objective. They also suggest that greater resilience would better serve society’s economic interests. People expect to be safe in new buildings and the building code delivers safety. But people also want to use buildings after the Big One. America has a few options for meeting those expectations, including stronger, stiffer construction, with geographically optimized strength and stiffness. Greater strength and stiffness is not the only option to improve resilience, but such an approach offers the advantages that it could be implemented in practice by any structural designer without requiring additional technical expertise, software, of proprietary technology. It would produce a healthier economy and save society an average of $4 for every $1 of added cost. The savings cross property lines, benefiting tenants, owners, lenders, developers, and everyone who does business with them. The added cost would amount to approximately 1%, and experience in Moore, Oklahoma, shows that it would probably affect real estate sales and prices little or not at all. The solution addresses ethical considerations by responding to the public’s expectations for better performance and by optimizing utilitarian outcomes. Other options such as second-generation performance-based earthquake engineering, innovative technologies, and rating systems could complement this approach and further increase resilience.

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