National Center For Earthquake Engineering Research Gets $10 Million NSF

Release Date: October 7, 1997

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo's National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER) has been awarded a $10 million grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a Center for Advanced Technologies in Earthquake Loss Reduction.

The award brings to more than $56 million the total funding that NCEER has been awarded by the NSF since the center was established in September 1986 by the NSF, following a nationwide competition.

The five-year grant, the third received by NCEER from the NSF, will support a program to study the application of advanced and emerging technologies to minimize earthquake damage and losses nationwide.

It is part of a $30 million commitment by the federal agency to expand earthquake research through the funding of three earthquake engineering research centers. The others -- the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, headquartered at the University of California at Berkeley, and the Mid-America Earthquake Center, headquartered at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign -- are being funded for the first time under the new system.

The grants were announced today by the NSF in Washington, D.C.

In announcing the grants, William A. Anderson, director of the NSF's Earthquake Mitigation Program, said, "These new centers are needed to extend our understanding of the impacts of seismic events on buildings, roads, bridges, energy sources and other components of our built environment and societal institutions.

"The knowledge gained through these research centers and shared with engineers, architects and planners will help reduce hazards and save lives."

Since its founding, NCEER has operated as a consortium that annually has involved the participation of close to 100 researchers at institutions in the U.S. and around the globe, including Berkeley and Illinois.

In its 11-year history, NCEER has successfully leveraged $46 million in NSF funds to attract additional support totaling more than $110 million for research, education and outreach programs. It has received more than $26 million in matching funds from New York State to support its work to minimize the impact of earthquakes on the nation’s built environment. Major funding has included $14.2 million from the Federal Highway Administration to conduct seismic research on highways and their components.

Considerable knowledge and technology developed through NCEER’s programs have been put into practice.

According to Director George C. Lee, Ph.D., NCEER’s emphasis on networking across institutions and disciplines has been integral to its success and led to NSF awarding it a third round of funding, and funding an additional two earthquake-engineering research centers.

“NSF is sending a strong signal that the concept of center-funded earthquake- engineering research pioneered by NCEER has proven to be an effective way to develop methods of mitigating the damage wrought by earthquakes,” Lee added.

The $30 million commitment by NSF was praised in a joint statement issued by Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl of Berkeley, UB President William R. Greiner and Chancellor Michael Aiken of Illinois.

They said the $30 million commitment to their institutions by the NSF “will substantially enhance our abilities to develop effective strategies for further reducing the loss of life and major physical devastation from future seismic shocks.”

The statement noted: “There is much yet to be accomplished in this field of scientific inquiry. Berkeley, Buffalo and Illinois are prepared to provide the research leadership that will ultimately benefit people throughout the globe and place the United States at the forefront of scientific progress in earthquake-hazard mitigation. NSF’s investment will be returned many-fold through the prevention of earthquake damage that can easily climb into the billions of dollars and the loss of life that never can be measured in financial terms.”

Greiner praised NCEER for its successes in earthquake-engineering research and education.

“During its first decade, NCEER has been a defining model of a stellar academic research center for the 21st century,” Greiner said. “It has created international information resources, trained new hazard-mitigation engineers, advanced our knowledge of special engineering techniques and helped to retrofit existing structures. At the same time, these activities have enabled NCEER to help create related economic opportunities for firms in Western New York and elsewhere in the U.S.

“We think that’s how it works: The very best research centers should be developing and sharing knowledge, passing it on to today's practitioners and future experts, and using it to improve the quality of life for people around the region, state and nation,” he continued. “NCEER has done all of those things very, very well.

“We are proud that the NSF has included NCEER in this new national earthquake- engineering research consortium. The center has been a leader -- it will continue to be a leader and to take a leadership role in forming important new endeavors in the field.”

Lee said that under its latest NSF grant, NCEER will intensify its research program in three key areas: quantifying the earthquake threat by developing methods to better estimate losses from future earthquakes; exploring and developing new technologies, such as high-performance computing, sensors and intelligent/smart materials, to strengthen critical buildings and lifelines to better withstand earthquakes, and improving the effectiveness of emergency response and crisis management through the use of advanced technologies.

“While earthquakes are inevitable natural hazards, they do not have to be inevitable natural disasters,” said Lee.

“NCEER has in large part revealed the great promise that new technology offers in reducing loss of life and property from earthquakes. We are very appreciative and proud to have been given this opportunity to further explore the frontiers of technology and to accelerate its development and implementation toward a future that is much safer from earthquake destruction.”

Lee said NCEER will strengthen its network of affiliated institutions, joining with the centers at Berkeley and Illinois to establish a new, nationwide system of centers for earthquake-engineering research.

In addition to UB, other institutions taking part in the NCEER program include Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, EQE Center for Advanced Planning and Research, 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.

“NCEER researchers have demonstrated their ability to work together on focused projects that join those with expertise in earthquake engineering with those who study seismology and the social and economic impacts of earthquakes,” Lee said. “Together, their combined knowledge produces a research team well-prepared for the challenge of developing sound engineering and disaster-management solutions that are also economically feasible and socially acceptable.”

The work of NCEER researchers has had applications across the U.S., as well as in other parts of the world. They have included the retrofitting of several major buildings in California; a study to quantify the risk of a major earthquake in Memphis, Tenn., which lies within the New Madrid fault zone, and advocacy for a building code including seismic provisions for new buildings that was enacted in New York City in 1995.

Center researchers have played major roles in reconnaissance efforts following earthquakes occurring in the U.S., including those in 1989 in the San Francisco Bay area and in 1994 in Northridge, Calif., as well as those in other countries, such as in Kobe, Japan, in 1995.

Other international efforts have included an NSF-funded, multi-year joint project between NCEER and the International Center for Disaster-Mitigation Engineering at the University of Tokyo, and an exchange program involving researchers from the U.S. and the People's Republic of China.

Closer to home, NCEER has played a major role in broadening the product base of several Western New York businesses.

In addition to its broad research programs, NCEER functions as a unique educational resource for undergraduate and graduate students at institutions throughout the center’s network. To date, 150 earthquake engineers have received their doctorates after participating in NCEER-supported research.

“These graduates are now shaping the seismic-protection technologies and policies of the future at engineering firms, universities and public agencies around the world,” said Lee.

For further information about NCEER, go to the center's Web site at http://nceer.eng.buffalo.edu

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