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Andrew Whittaker

U.S. ill-prepared for effects of major quake in large urban area

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published July 31, 2014

“Lifelines are at the core of resilience and we do not understand the vulnerability of our lifelines, their interdependencies and the cascading effects of lifeline failures, regionally and nationally.”
Andrew Whittaker, director
MCEER

MCEER Director Andrew Whittaker on Tuesday told Congress that the United States is not prepared for the effects of a major earthquake in a large urban area.

He did so at a hearing to review the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) held by the Subcommittee on Research and Technology of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Whittaker, who leads the national center at UB dedicated to enhancing resilience against earthquakes and other extreme events, testified that the United States is not prepared, in part, because the effects of such an event, both economic and social, will be felt far from its epicenter.

“Lifelines are at the core of resilience,” he explained, “and we do not understand the vulnerability of our lifelines, their interdependencies and the cascading effects of lifeline failures, regionally and nationally, and so we can neither judge nor characterize our earthquake resilience.”

Whittaker, who also serves as professor and chair of the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, presented several specific recommendations for research and development aimed at earthquake preparation and mitigation, calling it “a multidisciplinary endeavor requiring contributions from earth scientists and seismologists, geotechnical and structural engineers, social scientists and planners.”

His testimony pointed to the 2011 National Research Council report on National Earthquake Resilience, which presented a roadmap for achieving resilience that was constructed around 18 elements. His key recommendations cut across those 18 elements and included a call for the U.S. Geological Survey to build out and maintain the Advanced National Seismic System and support its maintenance, and for the National Science Foundation to adequately support earthquake engineering research infrastructure and provide funds to enable researchers to take full advantage of this infrastructure.

He also recommended NEHRP investments in lifelines, tools and technology to harden vulnerable buildings, the development of seismic isolators and dampers to protect high-value components in building and non-building structures, performance-based earthquake engineering for buildings and non-building structures, and funding of technology transfer, including a substantial strengthening of support for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.