A new research center at Utah State University will help bridge the gap between what we know about the devastating effects of earthquakes and how to better design our infrastructure to withstand them.
The Utah Earthquake Engineering Center will serve all of Utah as a training and research hub focused on developing Utah-specific seismic safety solutions. The goal of the new center is to better prepare the state for a quicker and more resilient recovery following a major tremor.
“Utah is long overdue for a damaging earthquake,” said Brady Cox, professor of civil engineering at USU and a leading earthquake expert. “As we continue to grow in population and build homes, roads, bridges, buildings and utilities, we need to make sure our infrastructure is designed and constructed to withstand earthquakes with the overarching goal of minimizing deaths, dollars and downtime.”
Cox says Utah has more than 175,000 unreinforced masonry buildings, a primary cause of earthquake-related deaths. One of the first tasks of the center will be to develop retrofit solutions for such buildings and other worrisome infrastructure.
“We will need to retrofit those existing buildings and schools and other structures like aqueducts and sewer lines that were not built to modern standards,” Cox said. “The new Utah Earthquake Engineering Center will help bring focus to these efforts.”
The center will provide training for working engineers and prepare the next generation of students with specialized training in earthquake engineering. Advanced seismic training will help address a glaring problem in Utah: the state currently has less than 1 percent of the trained engineers needed to inspect buildings following a large earthquake.
Jagath Kaluarachchi, dean of USU’s College of Engineering, says the center comes at a key time.
“Earthquakes are on everyone’s mind in Utah,” he said. “But across our state, we don’t have the engineering solutions to prepare for a major seismic event. USU will become the first in the state to develop an earthquake engineering emphasis area for graduate students.”
Kaluarachchi says the center will become the state’s trusted leader for earthquake engineering solutions. He and Cox envision a thriving research organization that supports a growing network of civic, industry, academic and government partnerships. The center will officially launch this fall with ongoing support from USU and a one-time $2.5 million appropriation from the state.
A major component of the center’s applied research program will be its custom-designed, large-scale shaker tables used for simulating earthquake loads and testing building and infrastructure components. The funding will also be used to acquire specialized fiber optic systems for measuring seismic responses in bridges, pipelines and other infrastructure.
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