Foremost Purdue earthquake engineer urges Congress to fund research for securing seismically vulnerable aging infrastructure

July 30, 2014  


Julio Ramirez testify

Purdue civil engineering professor Julio Ramirez, at left, director of the Purdue-led George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), testifies before the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology. Next to Ramirez is William U. Savage, a consulting seismologist for William Savage Consulting LLC (Purdue University photo)
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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Purdue University earthquake engineer Julio Ramirez testified before Congress on Tuesday (July 29) as it debates reauthorizing legislation to reinstate federal research funding devoted to mitigating earthquake damage to the nation's infrastructure.

Ramirez, director of the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) headquartered at Purdue, emphasized the crucial value of the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), the federal agency dedicated to reducing fatalities, injury and property loss due to earthquakes.

"The importance of earthquake preparation and mitigation cannot be overemphasized, and NEHRP provides the critical support structure for seismic protection of the United States," Ramirez said in the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Research and Technology.

Ramirez, a civil engineering professor, also stressed that although many of the world's global challenges, such as the mitigation of earthquake risk, can best be met with a strong presence of engineers working in teams with social scientists and other experts, the number of engineering students in the United States is declining.

As part of the Purdue Moves initiative, Purdue and its College of Engineering have taken a leadership role as part of the national call to graduate 10,000 more engineers per year, enhancing the capacity for innovation, economic growth and solutions to global grand challenges, Ramirez said.

As an example, Ramirez cited recent federally funded research that culminated in a list of 1,500 so-called "killer buildings" in Los Angeles. The study identified collapse triggers in non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings constructed before 1976 - which includes residential, commercial and critical service structures such as hospitals and schools.

"The study used NSF-funded NEES laboratories around the nation to provide building owners and public officials with solutions to make these vulnerable structures safer," Ramirez said. "Our team performed physical tests on concrete columns, beam-column subassemblies, soil-structure-foundation interaction field tests and membrane tests."

Los Angeles city officials plan to use the resulting research data to evaluate strategies for retrofitting their vulnerable structures, and the Los Angeles school district has already begun retrofits to several school buildings. In the future, data from this study will enable Los Angeles policymakers and business owners to improve safety during earthquakes.

In his testimony, Ramirez pointed to the precedent established by the June 2012 Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, which provides a series of suggestions and initiatives that could serve as a roadmap for the future.

For achieving national resilience, Ramirez advised prioritizing funding for research that identifies older, vulnerable construction, followed by research on new construction methods and materials, and then on studies focusing the re-establishment of communities affected by earthquakes.

Based at Purdue's Discovery Park, the National Science Foundation-funded NEES is a shared network of 14 experimental facilities, collaborative tools, a centralized data repository and earthquake simulation software, all linked by high-speed Internet connections. 

Writer: Marti LaChance, 765-496-3014, lachance@purdue.edu 

Source: Julio Ramirez, ramirez@purdue.edu

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