Berkeley Picked For Pacific Quake Research Center

by Fernando Quintero

Flanked by color photographs of scenes of devastation caused by earthquakes, Chancellor Berdahl, along with representatives from other universities, state government and private industry, announced at a press conference Tuesday, Oct. 7, that the National Science Foundation has chosen Berkeley to head a major West Coast earthquake engineering research center.

The new Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center, based at the Richmond Field Station where the press conference was held, will harness the expertise of nine academic institutions to find ways to reduce the cost and casualties caused by a major earthquake.

"We are delighted to be a part of this major, collaborative effort," said Berdahl, who acknowledged Gov. Wilson's role in bringing the earthquake center to Berkeley.

The center will receive $2 million each year for five years from the federal government, plus another $2 million each year in matching funds from the State of California, the University of California and Washington state. Other grants already promised to the center will raise the total available funds for the coming year to more than $6 million, said center director Jack Moehle, professor of civil engineering at Berkeley.

"The PEER Center is a consortium of Western universities committed to work together to develop technologies for reduction of urban earthquake losses," says Moehle, who has been the director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center at Berkeley for the past six years. "The breadth of expertise and facilities provided by the consortium will enable us to rapidly tackle the most difficult earthquake problems."

Some of the important problems PEER will tackle include what will happen when a great earthquake strikes an urban region, and what can be done about it. Recent experience demonstrates that moderate earthquakes such as the 1994 Northridge or 1995 Kobe events can inflict tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of losses. There is no experience that can demonstrate the effects of even larger earthquakes on modern urban regions. The center will aim to understand the extent of the problem before it happens and work to develop technologies and strategies to reduce the inevitable losses.

In addition to Berkeley, partners in the PEER Center are the University of California campuses at Los Angeles, Davis, Irvine and San Diego, plus Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and the University of Washington in Seattle. Nine other affiliated universities are scattered throughout the West.

"Through its academic excellence and achievement, the PEER Center will provide vital information in preparing for and handling future seismic disasters for leaders around the globe," said Gov. Wilson in a prepared statement.

"Leading academic scientists will work side by side with economists and policy experts to build our base of knowledge, help minimize future economic damage and invest in public safety. California is the rightful place to lead the charge and meet the challenge. I commend our academic institutions and their leaders for making this selection a reality."

UC President Richard C. Atkinson likewise heralded the effort.

"The awarding of the earthquake research center to California is another example of the quality of California's research universities and the vital role they can and do play in expanding the world's scientific knowledge for the betterment of people everywhere," said Atkinson.

According to Moehle, the funding commitment from the National Science Foundation will establish a core of basic and applied research. It also is the first step toward establishing a broader research and implementation partnership between federal and state government, universities and business.

In anticipation of the award, Pacific Gas and Electric Company already has committed $2.4 million to the center for the first year to establish a utilities research component. Moehle anticipates that other key industry sources can be tapped to work with the Center on industry-driven research.

The primary emphasis of the PEER Center, Moehle says, will be on the engineering and economic aspects of urban earthquakes that threaten the western U.S. The seismology and geology of earthquakes are well covered by other research centers, in particular the Southern California Earthquake Center and Berkeley's own Seismographic Station.

"Recent earthquakes have had increasingly greater losses associated with them, and conceivably the losses from a major quake in an urban area of California could cost two to three times the state's annual budget," Moehle says.

"To effectively reduce these losses requires a systems approach that considers the many interacting elements of the social and physical environment.

"Our proposal was to establish a multi-disciplinary center that bridges the gaps between traditional earthquake disciplines such as seismology and engineering and brings in other disciplines such as political science and economics."

The center will also establish an education program-with elements aimed at K-12 and university and professional continuing education-to help raise awareness of earthquakes, bring new students into earthquake-related disciplines and transfer new knowledge to earthquake professionals.

The new team offers not only the world's best experts in earthquake engineering and risk reduction, but also the best facilities. These include the world's largest three-dimensional earthquake simulator, located at Berkeley.

NSF also funded two other centers at $2 million per year for five years: the Mid-America Earthquake Center, based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the Center for Advanced Technologies in Earthquake Loss Reduction, at the State University of New York in Buffalo.



Copyright 1997, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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