Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Created a 'Cascading Event,' Demonstrating Need for Multi-Hazard Approach

Release Date: March 14, 2011


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of northern Japan and the tsunami it triggered demonstrate the need for an integrated approach to preparing for, mitigating and responding to extreme events, say researchers at the University at Buffalo, MCEER and the UB Center for GeoHazards Studies, who spoke to media in a briefing Friday on UB's North Campus.

Video commentary from UB faculty experts is available here:


MCEER is the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research headquartered at UB.

"It's striking just how complicated these disasters can be," says Gregory Valentine, PhD, UB geology professor and director of the Center for GeoHazards. Coincidentally, Valentine had planned to fly to Japan on Friday to attend "The First Workshop of Asia-Pacific Region Global Earthquake and Volcanic Eruption Risk Management."

"We tend to view the disasters from within our own research disciplines, but in fact, numerous disciplines are needed to better prepare for, mitigate and respond to such extreme events," says Valentine. "You can't study individual hazards in isolation."

Gilberto Mosqueda, PhD, UB associate professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering and MCEER researcher, agreed, noting that numerous fires were triggered as the result of the earthquake. Such fires can be caused by the rupturing of utility lines underground and in buildings. He said that while structures have been designed to resist earthquake forces and to resist fires, once shaking occurs -- even if the building remains standing -- their ability to resist fires may be reduced.

"This is a cascading event," says Mosqueda. "This earthquake will push us to pay more attention to what happens during these cascading events. We are focusing on this at UB, to study how systems behave under multiple hazards, so that we can minimize loss of life and property damage in these extreme events."

Such events also have severe environmental repercussions beyond the way they affect the built environment, according to Chris Renschler, PhD, associate professor of geography at UB and director of the Landscape-based Environmental System Analysis and Modeling Laboratory.

"This cascading event has caused dramatic changes inland and especially in the coastal landscape and its ecosystems, in addition to its impact on infrastructure," he says, noting that landslides and various sources of pollution potentially could be severe short-and long-term hazards for humans and wildlife.

UB faculty often travel to countries and regions devastated by earthquakes, as part of international efforts to improve seismic design of buildings and infrastructure. Disaster mitigation, response to extreme events and multi-hazard engineering are research strengths of the university identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan.

Founded in 1986, MCEER, headquartered at the University at Buffalo, is a national center of excellence in advanced technology applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquakes and other hazards, and to improving disaster resilience. One of three such centers in the nation established by the National Science Foundation, MCEER has been funded principally over the past two decades with more than $67 million from NSF, more than $47 million from the State of New York and more than $34 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, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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