Earthquake Engineering Center Changes Name, Expands Focus

9/11 attacks, Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina spur emphasis on "multi-hazard resilience"

Release Date: July 5, 2006 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- To better reflect its mission of developing solutions to improve resilience against extreme events of all sorts, the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research headquartered at the University at Buffalo is shortening its name to MCEER.

Since September 11, 2001, the earthquake engineering research center, founded in 1986 and one of three established by the National Science Foundation, has been applying its expertise in reducing earthquake damage to communities to a broad range of natural and manmade hazards.

The center's new moniker and logo will include the banner "Earthquake Engineering to Extreme Events," to emphasize this broadened focus. The reference to "extreme events" also underscores the identification through the UB 2020 strategic planning process of "Extreme Events: Mitigation and Response" as one of the strategic strengths upon which UB plans to build in the future.

"There is a whole body of knowledge that we have acquired in the context of developing new tools and technologies in earthquake engineering that now should be transferred to address other hazards," said Michel Bruneau, Ph.D., MCEER director and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering.

The goal, he explained, is to find solutions that can protect communities from a variety of hazards at one cost, rather than using different solutions for each hazard, as now often is the case.

"We take an optimized approach," said Bruneau. "Ultimately, we will develop solutions that work for all disasters."

A key goal of MCEER is to unite and support national and international teams to conduct research, education and outreach programs to develop knowledge, tools and technologies to enhance resilience of critical infrastructure, systems and communities against natural and manmade disasters. Initiatives include state-of-the-art multidisciplinary research, traditional and continuing education programs, and partnerships with business, industry and government stakeholders.

"We don't only wish to develop clever and cost-effective solutions to these problems," said Bruneau, "we also want to be very active in driving these solutions into practice in the marketplace."

MCEER's interest in leveraging the expertise of its researchers, students and partners beyond the scope of earthquake engineering began with an initial multidisciplinary collaboration just after the World Trade Center attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After conducting an NSF-funded reconnaissance mission to the site within days of the attacks, MCEER researchers brought together earthquake engineers, blast-protection engineers and social scientists.

"The idea was to bring everyone's skill sets to bear on multiple hazards," said Bruneau, "to look for the synergies among all of the different disciplines, and to start developing a truly multi-hazard approach."

MCEER researchers also have been instrumental in reconnaissance work and research on Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Charley.

"If you want to break the disaster-reconstruction-disaster-reconstruction cycle, you have to adopt a multi-hazard perspective," said Bruneau. "It's not sufficient to respond to the 'crisis of the day.'"

For example, he said, when jurisdictional governments impose new building codes in the wake of a hurricane, those codes also should be reviewed for their applicability to other disasters, not just hurricanes.

"When we looked at the bridges that sustained damage from the storm surges in last year's hurricanes, we found the damage to be strikingly similar to damage caused in past earthquakes," said Bruneau. "We know that there are steps taken to anchor bridge decks in earthquake-prone regions. Similar remedies could have reduced significantly the damage suffered by these hurricane-stricken bridges. Still, in places that don't have earthquakes, these things aren't done. Why can't we develop and adapt the same kinds of technologies we use for earthquakes to protect against storm surges?"

To answer these and similar questions, MCEER scientists and engineers currently are working on a number of projects to foster a multi-hazards perspective. They are focusing on protecting nuclear power plants and bridges from blasts and earthquakes; studies of progressive collapse in buildings and infrastructure due to various disasters; understanding how nonstructural damage occurs, where the building itself may survive, but its function is diminished due to nonstructural damage to equipment and contents; and developing models of organizational behavior and decision-making during disasters, especially important for critical facilities, such as hospitals.

MCEER, headquartered at the University at Buffalo, was founded in 1986 as a national center of excellence in advanced technology applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquake and other hazards nationwide. 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.

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