Canterbury research on earthquake engineering and resilient infrastructure

Posted 12 Feb 2015 by CanterburyUniversity Popular
Posted in Education

Civil and natural resources engineers at the University of Canterbury are developing new technologies to evaluate the effects of earthquake-induced ground movement on buildings and facilities critical for the safety and well-being of communities throughout New Zealand.


Professor Tom O’Rourke of Cornell University, a University of Canterbury visiting Erskine fellow, is researching the issue with Professors Misko Cubrinovski and Brendon Bradley and Dr Matt Hughes. The Erskine fellowship programme was established in 1963 following a generous bequest by distinguished former student John Erskine.


The four are investigating how soil and rock behave in response to earthquakes and other natural hazards, such as floods and landslides. They are using advanced soil exploration and testing techniques, light detection and ranging technology and geographical information systems to understand how earthquakes and natural hazards affect lifeline systems.


Professor O’Rourke is teaching a course at the University of Canterbury which focuses on case histories of extreme events, their effects on infrastructure, and ways to develop resilient communities through improved systems performance.


Case histories will include the World Trade Center Disaster, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, Tohoku earthquake, San Francisco earthquakes, the Northridge earthquake and the Canterbury earthquakes. 


“Lifelines are large geographically distributed systems, such as electric power, gas and liquid fuels, telecommunications, transportation, water supplies, and wastewater conveyance and treatment facilities,” Professor O’Rourke says.


“They are intricately linked with the economic well-being, security, and social fabric of the communities they serve.  In many ways, lifelines define modern society. The effectiveness with which resources and services are delivered through lifeline systems influences, both locally and nationally, gross domestic product, jobs and household income, energy independence, and economic competitiveness.”


Professor O’Rourke worked in New Zealand in 2007 as a senior specialist supported by the Fulbright Foundation, with the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Wellington. He helped develop national policy for natural hazards and the mitigation of their impact on lifeline systems.


He is a frequent visitor to New Zealand, and has helped in the recovery of Christchurch from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. He provided external review for plans to rebuild roads, water delivery, wastewater conveyance, and drainage systems in Christchurch.


He has provided advice for Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) in the restoration of water and wastewater systems in Christchurch and for the Lyttelton Port of Christchurch in evaluating ground conditions and construction methods for the port facilities.


Before arriving at the University of Canterbury he chaired a United States national study of earthquake-resilient lifelines, conducted through the Applied Technology Council under the sponsorship of the US National Institute for Standards and Technology.


That study produced a roadmap for research, development and implementation of technologies and policies for improved community resilience to earthquakes through the betterment of lifeline system performance. There are many relevant lessons for New Zealand in this study, Professor O’Rourke says.


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