Purdue-led NEES joins earthquake engineers, industry leaders for conference, marking 50th anniversary of historic Alaska quake

July 11, 2014  

alaska quake

Damage to Fourth Avenue in downtown caused by the Great Alaskan Earthquake on Good Friday, March 27, 1964. The magnitude 9.2 earthquake lasted more than four minutes and reverberated as far away as Texas and Louisiana. (Historical photo/U.S. Geological Survey).
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Engineers, scientists, industry leaders, public policy experts, emergency responders, government agency officials and others will spend five days here in July to highlight advancements in earthquake damage mitigation and mark the 50th anniversary of the historic Alaskan quake that took 131 lives and caused $300 million in damage.

Researchers affilated with the Purdue University-led George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) will join participants from around the world for the 10th National Conference on Earthquake Engineering (10NCEE) and Quake Summit 2014 on July 21-25. The conference, titled Frontiers of Earthquake Engineering for 2014, is hosted every four years by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI).

"We are joining our NEES team of earthquake engineers, hazards researchers, and students and educators for Quake Summit 2014 with EERI to bring together professionals from a broad range of disciplines ranging from architecture, public policy and the social sciences to regional planning, emergency response and regulation," said Julio Ramirez, chief officer for NEES and a civil engineering professor at Purdue.

Quake Summit 2014 and 10NCEE will feature nearly 800 presentations. For a detailed program of the speakers and their presentations, visit http://www.quakesummit.org. Highlights of research scheduled to be presented during the NEES Quake Summit 2014 include:

* A study to identify concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area referred to as nonductile concrete buildings, which have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Findings and mathematical modeling tools developed in the project could be applied to mitigation programs in other seismically active regions. More than 75 million Americans in 39 states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation. The poor seismic performance of nonductile concrete buildings was evident in recent earthquakes, including those in Northridge, California, in 1994, and Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011. The project is led by Jack Moehle, the T.Y. and Margaret Lin Professor of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. A related news release is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q1/study-identifies-quake-prone-concrete-buildings-in-los-angeles-area.html.

* Development of a new design for the framework of columns and beams that support bridges, called "bents," to improve performance for better resistance to earthquakes, reduce damage and promote faster onsite construction. The faster construction is achieved by prefabricating the columns and beams offsite and shipping them to the site, where they are erected and connected quickly. The work is led by John Stanton, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. A related news release is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q2/new-bridge-design-improves-earthquake-resistance,-reduces-damage-and-speeds-construction.html.

* A new primer on the NEEShub that explains how to use hybrid simulations, an emerging simulation method to study seismic effects on structures and to design buildings that better withstand strong earthquakes. The effort was led by Narutoshi Nakata, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Clarkson University, and Shirley Dyke, a Purdue professor of mechanical engineering and civil engineering. A related news release is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q3/earthquake-researchers-get-online-primer-for-simulation-method.html.

* An effort to improve the seismic safety of low-rise, wood-frame buildings - those no taller than four stories - which may possess "soft story" construction vulnerable to collapse. The project, NEES-Soft, aims to provide a method for retrofitting soft-story, wood-frame buildings to prevent collapse. Researchers are using "performance-based seismic design" to better understand collapse mechanisms and to validate the effectiveness of the retrofits. The researchers used advanced modeling and a type of simulation called hybrid testing to accurately predict performance over a wide range of seismic loading conditions. The research is led by John W. van de Lindt, the George T. Abell Distinguished Professor in Infrastructure in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University. A related news release is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q3/conference-talks-focus-on-quake-vulnerable-wood-frame-buildings.html.

The gathering of the top earthquake engineers, scientists and others also will highlight some of the major advances that have been made in the 50 years since the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964, which many researchers say was this country's wake-up call to the destructive power of big temblors.

At 5:36 p.m. local time on March 27, 1964, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake grabbed south-central Alaska and started shaking, lasting more than four minutes and reverberating as far away as Texas and Louisiana.

In all, 131 people were killed (115 in Alaska and 16 in Oregon and California) - crushed when fissures split the ground, drowned as land slid above and below water, and buried when homes and buildings cracked and folded in on themselves. A section of downtown Anchorage sank.  

The $300 million economic loss is estimated at $2.5 billion in today's dollars. The massive quake also was the most powerful ever recorded in U.S. history and remains the second-largest ever recorded next to the 9.5 temblor in Chile in 1960.

In recent testimony before Congress to mark the 50th anniversary of the Alaskan disaster, four earthquake scientists told the Natural Resources Committee how the U.S. is better prepared today. For example, the quake proved a theory that was just then surfacing in seismology - plate tectonics. The Alaskan temblor prompted scientists to rethink what they knew about quakes, structural engineers to reimagine buildings and lawmakers to write quake-aware policies.

During the conference, participants can tour and explore areas impacted by the 1964 earthquake that are still visible along Turnagain Arm with trips through Girdwood and Portage. Following the final presentations, a separate tour will head north to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley where officials will discuss examples of local damage from the 1964 earthquake. A visit also is planned to the West Coast & Alaska Tsunami Warning Center.

"The loss of life and property damage from the Alaska earthquake 50 years ago were significant, but the land-mass movements from that event helped engineers and scientists confirm aspects of the theory of plate tectonics," said Thalia Anagnos, professor in general engineering at San Jose State University and co-leader of education, outreach and training for NEES. "The subsequent research and scientific study from this tragedy has brought invaluable insights into earthquakes, ultimately leading to more disaster-resilient communities."

Based at Purdue's Discovery Park, the National Science Foundation-funded NEES is the product of more than a decade of planning by the earthquake engineering community.

The NEES network infrastructure encompasses management headquarters; 14 earthquake engineering and tsunami research facility sites located at universities across the United States - available for testing onsite, in the field, or through telepresence; and cyberinfrastructure operations that connect the work of the experimental facilities, researchers, educators and students. 

Since Oct. 1, 2009, the NEES operations and cyberinfrastructure headquarters has been located at Purdue's Discovery Park, the result of NSF cooperative agreement #CMMI-0927178. NEEScomm is the operations unit at Purdue. 

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu 

Sources: Julio Ramirez, 765-494-4130, ramirez@purdue.edu

Thalia Anagnos, 408-924-3861, thalia.anagnos@sjsu.edu

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