By Sara Barrett, Building Seismic Safety Council
The Building Seismic Safety Council’s Functional Recovery Planning Committee has published a report detailing the recommended scope, organization, and deliverables for developing functional recovery code provisions within the 2026 National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Recommended Seismic Provisions for New Buildings and Other Structures.
"The functional recovery provisions will revolutionize building codes by providing for the post-earthquake functional recovery performance that our communities need," said Ryan Kersting, S.E. (CA), BSSC Functional Recovery Planning Committee Chair and Principal with Buehler Engineering. "The minimum requirements of today’s building codes are intended to enable evacuations but do not guarantee reoccupancy or return of function in either the short or long term."
Kersting said that in contrast, functional recovery provisions will provide design criteria and other considerations that will ensure adequate recovery time is appropriately considered alongside basic safety objectives.
"The functional recovery performance objectives will depend on the services provided by a particular building based on its use or occupancy and will use commonly understood metrics to provide a more accessible understanding of building performance for developers, building owners, and community leaders," he said.
Community Devastation Doesn’t Have to be Inevitable
News coverage of seismic events in Turkey, Serbia, and Morocco this year have brought global attention to the devastating effects seismic forces can have on communities.
But what happens once the journalists leave? We rarely witness the long road to recovery.
The answer to this question is exactly what the NEHRP agencies (National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, and Federal Emergency Management Agency) have been working on since the last NEHRP Reauthorization Act was passed in 2018. Recognizing that protecting human lives from seismic events requires a robust community recovery effort, Congress specifically charged the NEHRP agencies with creating a plan to improve post-earthquake functional recovery time of the built environment to support overall resilience goals.
The Industry Supports Functional Recovery
In January 2021, NIST and FEMA published FEMA P-2090/NIST SP-1254 Recommended Options for Improving the Built Environment for Post-Earthquake Reoccupancy and Functional Recovery Time, providing recommendations for enabling recovery from extreme seismic events. The report has been submitted to Congress for consideration, however specific Congressional appropriations and authorization have not yet been provided for the NEHRP agencies to implement any of the report's recommendations.
The first two of the seven recommendations in the report are (1) to develop a framework for post-earthquake reoccupancy and functional recovery objectives, and (2) to design new buildings to meet recovery-based objectives.
Currently, the NIBS Building Seismic Safety Council, with support from FEMA, is developing the 2026 NEHRP Recommended Seismic Provisions for New Buildings and Other Structures (NEHRP Provisions) and defining functional recovery design criteria will be one of the key efforts during this NEHRP Provisions cycle. This assignment first received strong endorsement by the Functional Recovery Planning Committee as shown in the BSSC report, followed by an enthusiastic commitment from a large group of volunteer experts within the Functional Recovery Task Committee, working under the guidance of the 2026 NEHRP Provisions Update Committee (PUC).
The NEHRP Provisions are used as the primary technical resource for developing national seismic design standards within American Society of Civil Engineers/ Structural Engineering Institute 7 Standard Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures ("ASCE 7"), which represents the consensus standard of the entire civil engineering community. FEMA serves in a supporting role to develop ASCE seismic criteria.
"Supporting the NEHRP mission of developing strong seismic standards and codes to bolster earthquake resilience in the nation, functional recovery-based design will allow buildings and communities to recover faster and stronger from seismic disasters, reducing both the time and financial burden to their livelihood," said FEMA NEHRP Senior Physical Scientist and Project Officer Mai Tong. "In addition, the new provisions being developed will ensure buildings for first responders and essential services, such as fire departments and medical centers, will recover in a timely manner for essential functions to serve the community in need without interruption."
Why Functional Recovery Matters
According to a FEMA P-366 Hazus Estimated Annualized Earthquake Losses for the United States study by USGS and FEMA, the total estimated exposure for the nation is $107.8 trillion, which includes building structure and content damage. Of the total exposure, 27% comes from the following states: California, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, Utah, Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, and Hawai’i. Other states that pose a high risk (almost 15% of the total exposure) include South Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
"Investments in hazard reduction not only save lives, but they ensure the most vulnerable community members have access to care," said Jiqiu (JQ) Yuan, NIBS Vice President of Engineering and BSSC Executive Director. "The lack of investment in seismic hazard mitigation can be felt decades after a disastrous event."
One of the largest seismic events in U.S. history was the 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area in October 1989. It took more than four years to reopen damaged freeway structures, causing crippling congestion for commuters and disruption of key supply chains and commerce. Immediately after Loma Prieta, Caltrans began retrofitting much of Los Angeles’ freeway structures. The Los Angeles Times reported that every retrofitted structure survived the 1994 6.6-magnitude Northridge earthquake, allowing for immediate use.
To implement the recommendations from the FR Planning Committee report, the BSSC and the 2026 NEHRP PUC formed the Functional Recovery Task Committee with support of five topic subcommittees, including (1) key terms and concepts, (2) functional recovery categories and performance metrics, (3) recovery time targets for occupancies/services, (4) prescriptive design provisions, and (5) applicable hazard levels.
It is expected that a standalone functional recovery design provisions chapter will be developed and included in the 2026 NEHRP Recommended Seismic Provisions for New Buildings and Other Structures.