Release Date: September 1, 2005
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A reconnaissance team from University at Buffalo's Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) will travel next week to Gulfport, Biloxi and other areas of Mississippi devastated by Hurricane Katrina to determine the specific causes behind the failures of large engineered structures, primarily commercial buildings.
The MCEER-funded structural engineers are interested in studying failures firsthand with the goal of applying their earthquake-engineering expertise to designing structures in the future that will better withstand all kinds of hazards, including hurricanes, earthquakes and even terrorist attacks.
"We want to find out where the weak links are in these buildings," said Gilberto Mosqueda, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering at UB, who will lead the team.
Jerome S. O'Connor, MCEER senior program manager for transportation research, will accompany Mosqueda, as will MCEER-affiliated engineers from other institutions.
"We want to know, specifically, what caused these buildings to fail," O'Connor noted. "Is it a design flaw, is it something we could improve?" he said.
MCEER plans to post on its Web site the team's daily findings, including images from its teams in the field, with the focus on damage to engineered structures.
"Our engineers want to look at the damage Katrina caused from a multi-hazard perspective," said Michel Bruneau, Ph.D., UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering and director of MCEER.
Bruneau noted that building codes in some jurisdictions fail to adopt design requirements that protect structures against extreme events like severe earthquakes or Category 4 or 5 hurricanes.
"Our approach here is to find solutions that can protect structures from a variety of hazards at one cost," said Bruneau, "as opposed to the current variety of solutions that exist for each separate hazard. We want to take an optimized approach."
According to Bruneau, loads on buildings caused by Category 1 or 2 hurricanes have limited correlations with loads on buildings caused by earthquakes.
"In those types of hurricanes, you see lots of damage to trailer parks and roofs of residential homes, for example, but you don't see significant damage to the engineered infrastructure, such as multi-story commercial buildings, such as large hospitals or hotels," he explained.
"But when you get wind speeds of the magnitudes that you see in Category 4 or 5 hurricanes, from 130 to 155 miles per hour or more, the damage to this infrastructure in some ways starts to become more similar," he said. "Now you are closer to the realm where an integrated design solution could be relevant for multiple hazards."
Mosqueda and colleagues on the structural-engineering team also will focus on hospitals in the region.
"In particular, we heard that Tulane University Hospital remained operational for a time after it was flooded," said Mosqueda. "How did they do it and what are the nonstructural components, such as life-saving medical equipment, that must be secured so that hospitals can continue to function even in a natural disaster? This is the kind of data that then can be applied to other disasters, such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks."
MCEER is planning to send additional reconnaissance teams to the areas hit by Katrina; they will focus on remote sensing for response and recovery, and on social science and policy implications of the disaster.
Founded in 1986, the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research headquartered at the University at Buffalo is a national center of excellence in advanced technology applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquake and other hazards nationwide. One of three such centers in the nation established by the National Science Foundation, MCEER has been funded principally over the past 19 years with $68 million from NSF; $36 million from the State of New York and $26 million from the Federal Highway Administration. Additional support comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other state governments, academic institutions, foreign governments and private industry.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York.