NSF Invests $40 Million in Research Infrastructure for Earthquake, Wind and Water Hazards

(Released 24 September 2015) Recognizing the national need for resilience against multiple natural hazards, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has initiated a new chapter in hazards research with a $40-million investment in Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI).

Many U.S. communities are vulnerable to more than one kind of natural hazard. A single hazard event can bring several dangers: Hurricane winds can generate storm surges, and earthquakes can trigger tsunamis and landslides.

Water, energy and communication systems; buildings, tunnels and industrial facilities; and national security all depend on their ability to withstand natural forces. The stakes are massive.

To help better understand and resist the impacts of earthquake, wind and water hazards, NHERI will provide a network of shared, state-of-the-art research facilities and tools located at universities around the country.

NSF's signature investment in NHERI will allow researchers to explore and test ground-breaking concepts to protect homes, businesses and infrastructure lifelines, and will enable innovations to help prevent natural hazards from becoming societal disasters.

The NHERI program is also a critical investment in America's human capital, providing educational opportunities to students who will engineer our communities and plan our disaster response in the future.

"NHERI demonstrates NSF's ongoing commitment to engineering research and the corresponding research infrastructure to help the nation weather natural hazards," said Pramod Khargonekar, NSF assistant director for engineering. "With NHERI, we are broadening NSF's 15-year investment in earthquake engineering to include critical research in wind engineering and reduce the devastation wrought by hurricanes and tornadoes."

NSF participates in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program and the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program to share new knowledge and tools and protect American lives and property.

Supporting needed cyberinfrastructure development The University of Texas at Austin, led by Ellen Rathje, will develop and host a software platform, data repository and tools for researchers to advance hazard-resistant designs that will improve the safety of people and property.

The web-based platform will enable researchers across the United States to access computer models and simulations to study impacts of natural hazards on buildings, other structures and soils. Data from models and simulations can then be validated against data from actual tornadoes, earthquakes and other hazard events to evaluate their accuracy and provide new insights.

Experimental facilities to test new designs, materials NSF has established seven NHERI experimental facilities to test engineering designs and materials against powerful storms and quakes:

The NHERI cyberinfrastructure and experimental facilities, and the innovative research they will enable, will build on NSF's previous investments in natural hazards research.

During 2004-2014, NSF supported operation of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a distributed, multi-user, national research infrastructure for earthquake engineering research, innovation and education.

Through testing and simulations at NEES facilities, researchers made discoveries that advanced earthquake retrofitting, tsunami preparation, and performance-based designs, and contributed many other outcomes.

"NEES research enabled us to better understand and improve soil behavior and the seismic response of structures under earthquake loading through new high-performance construction materials, seismic-resistant structural systems, and ways to strengthen soils to prevent liquefaction," said Joy Paushke, program director in NSF's Division of Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation. "Under NHERI, future discoveries will not only mitigate the impacts of earthquakes, but also will advance our ability to protect life and property from windstorms such as hurricanes and tornadoes."

To augment the NHERI cyberinfrastructure and facilities established this year, NSF has a competition underway in fiscal year 2016 for the planned NHERI network coordination office, computational modeling and simulation center, and experimental facility for post-disaster, rapid-response research.