On August 19 and 20, 2015, PEER organized a meeting of earthquake engineers from the United States, Iran and Armenia at the American University of Armenia (AUA) in Yerevan, Armenia. The focus of this two-day session was the review of a program for seismic retrofit of over 16,000 schools.
The meeting, part of a collaboration between Iranian and American earthquake engineers, initiated by the United States National Academy of Sciences and supported by the US State Department, has been held on an annual basis since 2008 in the US, Iran, and most recently, in Turkey.
Dr. Yousef Bozorgnia, Executive Director of PEER headquartered at the University of California, Berkeley, and the lead organizer of this meeting series noted, “We are interested in fostering people-to-people interactions on earthquake issues, something that could have a positive outcome.”
AUA was selected to host the meeting because of its good relations with both countries, its geographical proximity to Iran, and AUA President Armen Der Kiureghian’s affiliation with both UC Berkeley and PEER. Dr. Der Kiureghian, himself a civil engineer, spent the majority of his career at UC Berkeley.
Seismic Retrofit: A Mutual Learning Opportunity
Ensuring earthquake-resistant design and upgrade of schools is a vital issue worldwide.
According to Dr. Bozorgnia, Iran has 16,000 schools that are vulnerable to earthquakes. Most are unreinforced masonry buildings (URM), which could collapse in a moderate earthquake. Since the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran has launched a major program to retrofit schools, having spent about $3 billion on school retrofit since 2005, with a plan to spend over $4 billion in the next few years. The implementation of such a large scale seismic retrofit program is an interesting learning process for all countries to follow.
In the US, following the 1933 Long Beach, California earthquake, the Field Act initiated long-term regulations for seismic design and construction of schools. “Iranian earthquake engineers are using several American building codes and guidelines,” explained Dr. Bozorgnia. “So this is an interesting learning experience for all of us, because they are using them on such a massive scale. In the US, we don’t have 16,000 schools going through a retrofit program, so the learning is mutual for both Iran and the US. It’s a win-win situation.”
Moving Forward: A Three-Way Collaboration
Participants of the two-day workshop hope the international partnership of colleagues will continue to flourish and serve as a model for future scientific collaborations across both physical and political boundaries for the greater good. “It’s a historical opportunity,” said Dr. Abdolreza S. Moghadam, Associate Professor at the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology in Iran. “The best way forward is through these natural networks of colleagues.”