Public Release: 

$10 Million Grant To Reduce Earthquake Losses

Cornell University

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Earthquake researchers at Cornell University will share in a $10 million grant awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University at Buffalo's National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER). New York state will provide matching funds of an additional $10 million over five years.

Cornell's portion of the funding, estimated to be between $600,000 and $1 million annually for five years, will support the Cornell researchers' work for the Center for Advanced Technologies in Earthquake Loss Reduction at Buffalo.

"This will advance earthquake engineering and help us to reduce devastating losses following earthquakes," said Thomas D. O'Rourke, Cornell professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Past research efforts have helped us to develop more effective emergency response systems."

Announced Oct. 6 in Washington, D.C., the $10 million grant provided to the center in Buffalo is part of a $30 million federal commitment by the NSF to expand earthquake research, and the remainder of the $30 million is being used to fund three other earthquake engineering research centers.

The earthquake research facility in Buffalo, the oldest of the research centers, has been in existence for 11 years. Centers being funded for the first time include the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, with headquarters at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Mid-America Earthquake Center, with headquarters at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Funding in the past has enabled Cornell engineers to study, predict and reduce the vulnerability of structures and lifeline systems during an earthquake.

Prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake in California in 1989 -- which struck minutes before a World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics -- O'Rourke and Mircea Grigoriu, Cornell professor of civil and environmental engineering, had studied the effects of the water pipelines in the San Francisco area and determined that parts of the water systems were vulnerable to devastating damage. Their study was used by the fire department for effective emergency operations.

O'Rourke also visited Kobe, Japan, immediately after the 1995 earthquake as part of NSF and National Institute of Standards and Technology efforts to study geotechnical aspects and the performance of lifelines during and after an earthquake. Following the 1994 Northridge, Calif., earthquake, the professor worked with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to develop a "digitized" water pipeline network. O'Rourke and his engineering students helped to create a Geographic Information System (GIS) for more than 11,000 kilometers of water pipelines so that if another earthquake strikes, the company can quickly identify trouble spots in the network.

"Our new Earthquake Engineering Research Center will focus on developing the advanced technologies needed to predict more accurately the behavior of complete structural systems as they respond to earthquake ground motions," said Cornell Professor Richard White, a structural engineer in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and one of four co-principal investigators on the University of Buffalo proposal to NSF. He spoke on behalf of his colleagues in structural engineering also involved in Cornell's seismic engineering research program; they are Grigoriu, professors Anthony Ingraffea, John Abel and associate professor Gregory Deierlein. "One of the major thrusts will be to develop advanced computational capabilities that can include all important elements of the building or infrastructure facility under study, in a manner analogous to the auto industry's recently developed computer simulation of crash-worthiness testing of automobiles," White said.

George C. Lee, director of NCEER, said that under the NSF grant, the center will intensify research in three areas: First, the center will quantify earthquake threat by developing methods to better estimate losses from future earthquakes; next, it will explore and develop new technologies, such as high-performance computing, sensors and "smart" materials, to bolster critical buildings and lifelines during earthquake events; and finally, the center will seek to improve the effectiveness of emergency response and crisis management through the use of advanced technologies.

In addition to the University of Buffalo and Cornell, other participating research institutions include: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware; EQE Center for Advanced Planning and Research in Irvine, Calif.; University of Nevada at Reno; University of Southern California; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; and the Wharton Risk and Decision Process Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

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