In the aftermath of September 11, UB’s strengths in earthquake engineering research and related areas were quickly recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as directly relevant to the difficult issues that have confronted the engineering and emergency response communities at the national level since the terrorist attacks.
In the wake of the attacks, the NSF funded eight teams to conduct post-disaster assessments. The $100,000 grant to UB’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), the largest of the eight NSF grants, supports investigations by several groups of researchers into the damage to buildings, as well as the response of medical and emergency operations following the World Trade Center attacks.
The MCEER studies include:
A key goal of the structural engineering research is investigating whether existing knowledge about making buildings resistant to earthquake damage can be used to design buildings to better withstand terrorist attacks.
Members of MCEER’s structural performance team visited New York City and for two days conducted preliminary reconnaissance of the building damage in the vicinity of the World Trade Center complex. The team members were MCEER deputy director Michel Bruneau, Andrei Reinhorn and Andrew Whittaker—all UB professors of structural engineering and MCEER investigators.
"Just as the top research universities of California have assisted that state in developing guidelines and technologies for reducing losses from future earthquakes, the MCEER/UB team stands ready to serve in an identical role for the State of New York in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center," says Whittaker.
Bruneau notes, "Our objective in visiting Ground Zero was to look at the buildings surrounding the World Trade Center—those buildings that are still standing but that sustained damage.
"Our immediate hope," he adds, "is that we can develop a better understanding as to why those buildings remain standing. Our long-term goal is to see whether earthquake-engineering technologies can be married to existing technologies to achieve enhanced performance of buildings in the event of terrorist attacks."
MCEER researchers in the social sciences are looking at what can be learned from the September 11 attacks about how different agencies involved in providing emergency services communicated and how emergency response might be improved in the future. This is an outgrowth of MCEER’s existing work with New York City hospitals and other emergency response services to improve the delivery of services in the event of an earthquake.
MCEER researchers will use satellite data from before and after September 11 to determine how such images might be used to give authorities a quick measure of the extent of damage following an attack or other emergency in the future.
Ellen Goldbaum is senior science editor, UB Office of News Services.