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Inaugural CSIC Lecture: The New Normal for Natural Disasters

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The effects of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, Canterbury Earthquake Sequence, and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are discussed with respect to their impact on regional and international economics, national practices for security and recovery, and worldwide energy policy. The severity and far ranging consequences of these extreme events have established in effect a new normal for natural disasters. The lecture explains why these events require a fundamental re-thinking of the way we evaluate the risks of extreme events, as well as define and protect critical infrastructure. Examples of critical infrastructure at risk are discussed with respect to earthquake effects on the water supply of Southern California and hurricane effects on New York City. Selective lessons learned from recent earthquakes are described with respect to mitigation measures. To address the need for protection against rare, high consequence events with limited financial resources, a strategy for improving infrastructure resilience is proposed.

Tom O’Rourke is the Thomas R. Briggs Professor of Engineering in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. He is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received a number of distinctions for his research and teaching, some of which are ASTM C .A. Hogentogler Award, ASCE Collingwood, Huber Research, C. Martin Duke, Stephen D. Bechtel Pipeline Engineering, and Ralph B. Peck Awards, and the British ICE Trevithick Prize. He gave the 2009 Rankine Lecture. He has served as President of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and as the chair or member of many professional society committees. He has authored or co-authored over 350 technical publications. His research interests cover geotechnical engineering, earthquake engineering, underground construction technologies, engineering for large, geographically distributed systems, and geographic information technologies and database management. He has served on numerous government advisory boards, as well as the consulting boards or peer reviews for many projects associated with highway, rapid transit, water supply, and energy distribution systems.

This talk is part of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure & Construction series.

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