National Science Foundation Reviews Progress of Earthquake Centers

In an intensive first-year review, the three National Science Foundation (NSF) funded earthquake engineering centers delineated ambitious plans and current research that will transform national and global vulnerability to earthquakes. The NSF review was hosted by the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center's administrative headquarters at the Richmond Field Station, University of California, Berkeley, July 29-31. The two other centers participating were the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), State University of New York at Buffalo, and the Mid-America Earthquake (MAE) Center, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The three centers were established in October of 1997.

NSF and the NSF-assembled multidisciplinary Oversight and Coordination Committee (OCC) carried out the review. The purpose of the review was to examine strengths and weaknesses of each center and to provide early feedback for research, educational, and outreach programs that will contribute to the mitigation goals of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction (NEHRP)/National Earthquake (NEP) Programs. NSF participants included Doctors William A. Anderson, Ronald L. Sack, John Hurt, Clifford J. Astill, and Shih-Chih Liu. The members of the Oversight and Coordination Committee comprised eight specialists drawn from the academic, government, and private sectors: Dr. Gonzalo Castro (GEI Consultants), Professor Liam Finn (University of British Columbia), Ms. Paula Gori (Community Planner, U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Hazards Program), Professor Le-Wu Lu (Lehigh University), Dean Risa Palm (University of North Carolina), Professor Emeritus Leon Wang (Old Dominion University), Professor Sharon Wood (University of Texas), and Professor James K. Wight (University of Michigan).

The three-day agenda began with brief overviews presented by PEER Director Jack Moehle, MAE Director Daniel P. Abrams, MCEER Director George C. Lee, and team members from each of the three centers. Each center was allotted three hours to provide details about its progress followed by one hour for questions. The strategic planning presentation addressed (1) the center's planning process, including how this will be updated; (2) the vision and goals of the plan; (3) how the strategic plan is being implemented, as reflected in research programs and educational programs, outreach activities, and the infrastructure (leadership/management, external oversight, status of financial support); (4) major accomplishments and outcomes to date in each program element; (5) key problem areas or those needing special attention; and (6) evolving plans for year two of the various program elements.

PEER's strategy is to develop its earthquake risk-reduction technologies within a performance-based earthquake engineering framework that strives to represent the real performance of construction for a range of future earthquakes, enabling designers and owners to study alternative performance options and to optimize the use of available capital. A specific goal of PEER is to develop a solid scientific and engineering basis for performance-based earthquake engineering so that truly effective risk mitigation technologies can be implemented. PEER will achieve this goal through a coordinated program of research, education, and partnerships with the users of research results.

The primary objective of the Mid-America Earthquake Center is to develop and disseminate new information on the physical, technical, economic, and social attributes of the earthquake problem that are unique to the eastern and central United States. MAE Center projects aim specifically at a systematic seismic risk reduction plan to meet this objective. The MAE Center's program addresses the issues that are specifically relevant to the built environment of the central and eastern U.S. MAE will (1) improve engineering of the built environment, (2) improve data for construction standards and codes, (3) continue the development of seismic hazards and risk assessment tools, and (4) develop an understanding of societal impacts and responses related to earthquake hazard mitigation.

MCEER's mission is to discover, nurture, develop, promote, and in instances pilot test innovative measures and advanced and emerging technologies to reduce losses in further earthquakes in a cost-effective manner. To fulfill its mission, MCEER's goals are to quantify building and lifeline performances in future earthquakes through estimation of expected losses, to develop cost-effective and innovative rehabilitation technologies for critical facilities, and to improve response and recovery through strategic planning and crisis management.

The format of the NSF review agenda was designed to ensure a good basis for comparison between centers. An important part of the review process included joint presentations about collaborative and cooperative activities between centers. Also discussed in this segment were cooperative activities involving other entities such as the Southern California Earthquake Center, the NEHRP/NEP agencies, local regional and state organizations, and international organizations.

According to Dr. William Anderson, NSF was "very impressed by the enthusiasm [of] the personnel of the three centers who provided us with significant amounts of information to better understand their progress."

The OCC is preparing four reports for NSF, three assessing each center's programs and activities; the fourth assessing cross-center activities.

Earthquake engineering center directors (left to right) George Lee (MCEER), Daniel Abrams (MAE), and Jack Moehle (PEER)