NSF & Congress
Dr. Priscilla P. Nelson
Division Director for Civil and Mechanical Systems
Directorate for Engineering
National Science Foundation
Before the Subcommittee on
Research House Committee on Science
U.S. House of Representatives
March 21, 2001
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee:
I appreciate the opportunity to be here today with
the Subcommittee to discuss the programs at NSF that
support the development of new science and engineering
knowledge, and that enable U.S. researchers to acquire
information following extreme events including the
recent Nisqually earthquake. Among other functions,
NSF is involved in enabling knowledge creation and
the education of future professionals, activities
which make possible effective earthquake hazard mitigation
in the nation.
NSF is privileged to serve as one of the principal
agencies in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction
Program (NEHRP), and many NSF activities are carried
out with close coordination and collaboration with
our NEHRP sister agencies: Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA), National Institute of Standards and
Technology (NIST) and the United States Geological
Survey (USGS). Our participation in NEHRP is consistent
with our policy of integrating NSF's activities with
those of other agencies when it will facilitate the
achievement of national goals, which in the case of
NEHRP involves the goals of reducing deaths, injuries
and property damage and other economic losses caused
by earthquakes. We are confident that NEHRP -- in
collaboration with other Federal agencies, local and
state governments, and private sector organizations
throughout the country -- will continue to take crucial
steps toward meeting this challenge in the years to
I will initially put the role of NSF in perspective
by saying a few words about the broader NSF mission.
Then I will discuss the specific focus of NSF-supported
reconnaissance activities following the Nisqually
The NSF Mission
In recent years, we have seen an acceleration in the
rate of change in society and the world at large.
In this era of rapid change, in which science and
technology play an increasingly central role, NSF
has remained steadfast in pursuit of its mission.
That mission is to support science and engineering
research and education for the advancement of the
nation's well being, and NSF accomplishes this mission
by investments in people, ideas and tools that build
the nation's research and education infrastructure.
At NSF, we believe that federally funded research should
have economic and social benefits for society, as
well as represent excellence in science and engineering.
We also see the necessity for and benefits from integrating
research and education, which can most effectively
be done at academic institutions.
NSF makes its investments in science and engineering
with the recognition that there is a need to maintain
excellence across the frontiers of scientific and
engineering disciplines. In order to significantly
enhance the return on such investments, we actively
seek partnerships with other Federal agencies as well
as other entities.
Finally, NSF places significant emphasis on the diffusion
of knowledge and technological innovations that are
relevant to such national goals as education, environmental
sustainability, creation of a robust information technology
infrastructure, and the development of reliable and
safe civil infrastructure systems. This requires an
appreciation of a broad range of research and educational
contexts, including the recognition that research
centers, consortia, and individual investigator projects
all contribute to the advancement of needed scientific
and engineering knowledge.
Role of NSF in NEHRP
NSF supports research and educational activities in
many disciplines, and this is reflected in the role
we fulfill under NEHRP. Our role complements the responsibilities
assigned to our principal partners in the program:
FEMA, NIST and USGS. NSF is involved in continuing
strategic planning with the other NEHRP agencies in
order to further interagency coordination and integration.
NSF is also a frequent collaborator with the other
NEHRP agencies. This collaboration includes co-funding
research, educational and outreach activities.
NEHRP authorization legislation calls for NSF to support
studies in the earth sciences, earthquake engineering,
and the social sciences. Since an integrated body
of knowledge is needed to understand earthquake problems
and to develop effective solutions for dealing with
them, such as innovative building designs and control
technologies, NSF encourages cross-disciplinary research.
The NSF-supported earthquake centers, which I will
discuss later, provide one of the most useful institutional
arrangements for conducting complex holistic research.
NSF's Earthquake-Related Research
and Educational Activities
Earthquake-related research and educational activities
are supported at NSF in the Computer and Information
Science and Engineering, Education and Human Resources,
Engineering, Geosciences, and Social, Behavioral and
Economic Sciences Directorates. The research areas
include seismology and fault processes, earthquake
engineering and social science research related to
earthquake hazard mitigation, preparedness and post-earthquake
recovery. Significant progress continues to be made
in these programs in understanding plate tectonics
and earthquake processes, geotechnical and structural
engineering, tsunamis. and the social and economic
aspects of earthquake hazard mitigation.
NSF supports numerous individual investigator and small
group projects, two university consortia, and four
earthquake centers that advance NEHRP goals. Other
NEHRP-related NSF activities include programs involving
earthquake research facilities, post-earthquake investigations,
international cooperation, and information dissemination.
Incorporated Research Institutes in Seismology (IRIS)
NSF supports the Incorporated Research Institutes in
Seismology (IRIS) consortium in order to provide the
seismographic facilities necessary to monitor earthquakes
worldwide, study the tectonic structure of active
seismic zones, and provide emergency seismographic
response to aftershock zones of major earthquakes.
IRIS' Global Seismographic Network (GSN), operated
in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, is
the primary means of locating, in near-real time,
seismic events around the world to provide emergency
and policy planners information with which decisions
on responses can be made. The GSN is nearly complete
on land with over 136 stations worldwide, most of
which are accessed in near-real time, and all of which
are available over the Internet through the IRIS Data
Management Center. The Data Management Center now
stores over 10 terabytes of data and is growing at
a rate of 3 terabytes per year. Tests are now being
conducted on the deep ocean floor to determine the
best technology with which to instrument the vast
oceanic areas of the Earth.
IRIS maintains a ready array of advanced, portable
seismic systems for rapid deployment in the aftershock
region of major earthquakes, and this array was deployed
to the Nisqually earthquake region. A separate dedicated
portable array is also used to map the tectonic structure
of active seismic regions. With knowledge of the tectonic
structure, scientists can better understand the geometry
of potential earthquake rupture zones and compute
their associated destructive strong motions, especially
close to the earthquake source.
Global Positioning System (GPS)
The Global Positioning System (GPS) was initially developed
by the Department of Defense in order to provide position
accuracies of a few meters. However, the differential
use of GPS with two or more receiving systems can
achieve sub-centimeter accuracy and this fact has
revolutionized the science of earthquake tectonics.
The distortion of the earth's surface is an essential
measure of the potential for earthquakes in a given
region. This distortion can be monitored with GPS
and other space-based positioning systems. NSF supports
facilities that use GPS to monitor crustal distortion
in both campaign and fixed-network modes.
The University Navstar Consortium (UNAVCO), supported
by NSF in partnership with NASA, was formed to support
scientific campaigns that monitor crustal distortion
in active tectonic areas. UNAVCO provides instrumentation,
training and logistics support to individual scientists
who have been funded to study specific tectonic areas
throughout the world.
The Southern California Integrated GPS Network (SCIGN)
is the most ambitious U.S. GPS fixed-network to date
and is under construction with support of NSF in partnership
with NASA, the USGS, and the Keck Foundation. SCIGN,
now almost one-half complete, will consist of 250
fixed GPS stations in southern California. It will
be linked with less dense networks in Nevada, northern
California, and the Pacific Northwest. The SCIGN data
is available on the Internet in near-real time, and
has already provided significant new discoveries and
constraints on our ideas of the tectonics of the San
Andreas Fault plate-boundary zone.
NSF established the Southern California Earthquake
Center (SCEC) in 1991 as a Science and Technology
Center for the purpose of promoting and integrating
science related to earthquake hazard estimation and
reduction in the southern California region. The USGS
is a partner in SCEC, which also receives support
from, the State of California, the City of Los Angeles,
County of Los Angeles, industry and private foundations.
Such broad funding is an example of how NEHRP agencies
leverage funds and indicates that SCEC truly is seen
as an activity that cuts across the concerns of the
NEHRP program. SCEC is a consortium of institutions
and is administered through the University of Southern
California. It continues to contribute significantly
to a new understanding of the earthquake hazard in
southern California by combining insights from seismicity,
new geodetic technology, new geologic discoveries,
and local site conditions in an innovative framework
of earthquake hazard evaluation. Recent examples of
SCEC findings include a) the discovery that magnitude
7 earthquakes have occurred on at least one local
thrust fault in the Los Angeles metropolitan region,
b) a determination that one major thrust fault discovered
beneath the region is currently inactive, and c) a
suggestion that north-south strain across the Los
Angeles region may be partially accommodated by east-west
crustal extension. SCEC advances are being effectively
communicated to professionals, students and the public
through a very active education and outreach program.
NSF funded three new earthquake engineering research
centers (EERCs) in October 1997. Representing a new
generation of such institutions, these recently funded
EERCs build on the experience of the first such center
that was funded by NSF in 1986, the National Center
for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER).
Each EERC is a consortium of 7 to 18 academic institutions
involved in multidisciplinary team research, educational
and outreach activities. With its administrative headquarters
at the University of California at Berkeley, the Pacific
Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) focuses
on earthquake problems in areas west of the Rocky
Mountains and emphasizes performance-based design
in its research and educational programs. The Mid-America
Earthquake Center (MAE) is headquartered at the University
of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and focuses on hazards
in the Central and Eastern U.S. and emphasizes research
related to critical building and transportation facilities.
The Multi-disciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering
Research (MCEER), which is the successor to NCEER,
has its headquarters at the State University of New
York at Buffalo and emphasizes research related to
advanced technologies for soils, structures, and lifelines
that are applicable to earthquake problems throughout
The EERCs are combining research across the disciplines
of the earth sciences, architecture, earthquake engineering,
and the social sciences. And in order to meet the
need for future professionals and assure continuing
U.S. leadership in the field, they are educating hundreds
of undergraduate and graduate students in the latest
analytical, computational and experimental techniques.
Additionally, even though it is early in their tenure,
the EERCs have established major partnerships with
industry, state government agencies, the other NEHRPO
agencies and other federal agencies (e.g., FHWA),
and foreign research organizations, which should also
help advance earthquake hazard reduction in the Nation
in the years ahead.
The three EERCs have developed significant collaborative
efforts in their research and educational programs,
and coordinate their seismic hazard research with
Actual earthquake events provide a wealth of knowledge
relevant to earthquake hazard mitigation. Areas struck
by such events represent natural full-scale laboratories,
offering unusual opportunities to learn vital lessons
about earthquake impacts on the natural and built
environment and to test models and techniques derived
from analytical, computational and experimental studies.
For this reason, NSF continues to support post-disaster
investigations, often in conjunction with the Earthquake
Engineering Research Institute (EERI), the Earthquake
Engineering Research Centers, and faculty at local
universities and colleges. The post-earthquake investigations
involve quick-response teams of researchers visiting
impacted sites to collect perishable information that
remains available only up to the time that full-scale
community restoration and reconstruction commence.
The events investigated with NSF support in the recent
past include the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan,
the January 2001 earthquake in India, and the Nisqually
earthquake south of Seattle on February 28, 2001.
Nisqually reconnaissance efforts have included many
activities and involved many organizations, including:
- Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
(EERI) through the NSF-funded "Learning from Earthquakes"
- The University of Washington
- Washington State University
- NSF Earthquake Engineering Research Centers
- PEER (Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research)
- MAE (Mid America Earthquake) Center
- MCEER (Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake
- Southern California Earthquake Center
- University of California, San Diego
- Utah State University
- Central Washington University
- University of Arizona
- CUREE (Consortium of Universities for
Research in Earthquake Engineering)
- The City of Seattle
- The City of Tacoma
- Washington State Department of Natural
- Washington State Department of Transportation
- United States Geological Survey
The main coordination was established by a local team
chartered by EERI under the LFE project and headed
by faculty from the University of Washington. This
team established main tasking for reconnaissance efforts
by self-assignment with direct involvement of researchers
from the University of Washington, PEER and several
of the organizations listed above. Other teams were
formed for particular focus responsibilities, including
personnel from the MAE and MCEER EERCs. The local
team arranged for public briefings on the University
of Washington campus March 1, 2, and 3. These were
well attended by researchers, the public, and the
media. FEMA supplied support for GIS data entry and
management, and the USGS gave access to strong motion
earthquake equipment and supplied Internet expertise
to bring a coordinated web site on line as soon as
possible. This web site came on line as an information
clearinghouse very shortly after the Nisqually event
[http://maximus.ce.washington.edu/~peera1/]. The support
from FEMA and USGS will continue for several weeks
more as reconnaissance activities wind down.
The reconnaissance activity following Nisqually has
greatly benefited from the participation of university-based
engineers experienced in observation through reconnaissance
activities for previous recent earthquakes - primarily
funded through NSF and the Learning from Earthquakes
grant to EERI. In addition, members of local area
engineering practice were out in force, and coordinated
with the university-led reconnaissance teams but had
the prime focus of completing work for clients. International
reconnaissance teams from New Zealand (the Building
Research Association) and Japan (Tokyo Institute of
Technology) have also been on site and contribute
to the data repository.
The Nisqually reconnaissance teams have produced preliminary
reports, and these will be developed into a comprehensive
assessment by the Earthquake Engineering Research
Institute through its "Learning from Earthquakes"
project, which is funded by NSF. The focus of this
assessment will be on the geotechnical aspects of
the event, including soil characteristics and strong
ground motion features; structural aspects, including
damage to various types of structures and focusing
on the preponderance of nonstructural damage; the
performance of lifelines, including electric, water
and telecommunications systems; and socioeconomic
aspects, including business interruptions and emergency
response. A preliminary report is available on the
Based on the observations from the reconnaissance,
preliminary conclusions include:
- Nonstructural damage was the major impact
affecting costs and occupancy.
- Other than unreinforced masonry buildings
on poor soil, few buildings sustained significant
- Local soil conditions and amplifications
of ground motions were important in causing variations
in performance - including soil liquefaction,
lateral spreading, and landslides.
- Lifelines apparently performed well,
but final information on pipeline breaks will
be slow to come in.
- Regarding critical facilities -
- airports: there was damage at SeaTac Airport
(e.g., the control tower) and at King
County (Boeing) airfield (building and
- hospitals: most experienced nonstructural
damage which will be costly nonetheless,
but there were relatively few injuries,
so the health services were not stressed
by the Nisqually event.
Although full consideration of research opportunities
that follow from the Nisqually earthquake will require
additional time, some focus areas of importance have
already been identified:
- Nisqually presents a unique opportunity
to assemble a database on direct and indirect
losses - which will permit unambiguous evaluation
of economic impact of nonstructural damage, disruption
to the business of government, and business interruptions.
In the case of Nisqually, these losses can be
determined separated from the costs of severe
structural impacts. This will be of great benefit
for calibration of loss estimation models.
- Recent investments in structural retrofit,
soil improvement, and application of new technology
in the Seattle area can be evaluated to provide
input for performance and repair cost models.
- Social science research is needed to
evaluate the implications of a non-catastrophic
event for the public, and to study changes in
decision making and in risk perception caused
by the Nisqually quake.
For engineering, recent focus is on new methodologies
for design, most importantly involving the concept
of Performance Based Earthquake Engineering (PBEE).
In PBEE, analytical and experimental models are used
to develop relationships between measures of earthquake
shaking and resulting damage. These relationships,
like the fragility curve shown here, are used to explicitly
define costs and risks.
In the past, engineering research has focused on catastrophic
collapse of structures, and recent highly damaging
quakes have provided field observations that can be
used to validate these models for structural failure.
In Performance Based Engineering, however, engineers
seek information on how to design for performance
levels other than catastrophic failure and complete
loss of functionality. This means fully defining the
fragility curve. This approach allows explicit definition
of costs and risks for any level of performance. The
Nisqually quake will provide access to exactly this
kind of knowledge needed in PBEE design.
NSF funds earthquake-related research projects conducted
at colleges and universities in nearly every state.
These projects are carried out by faculty in geosciences,
engineering, socio-economics and other areas. Many
of these projects are interdisciplinary and integrate
contributions from several principal investigators.
Projects are often completed with participation on
undergraduate and graduate students, and also with
involvement of K-12 teachers as a recently added program
at NSF. The integration of research and education
is inherent in earthquake research funding at NSF.
As indicated by this testimony, earthquakes are a global
hazard. For this reason, many countries find collaborative
research and the sharing of information essential
in meeting this challenge; the U.S. is no exception.
Similar to the other NEHRP agencies, NSF has a long
history of cooperating with other countries -- such
as China, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and
Turkey -- facing similar seismic risks. Let me briefly
mention some recent developments with regards to NSF's
efforts to enable U.S. earthquake researchers to collaborate
with their counterparts.
In 1993, the US/Japan Common Agenda for Cooperation
in Global Perspective was established to facilitate
cooperation in addressing pressing global problems,
including natural hazards. In 1998, a new joint earthquake
research program, called the US/Japan Cooperative
Research in Urban Earthquake Disaster Mitigation,
emerged out of this broad agreement. Under this five-year
program, NSF provides funding for U.S. researchers,
while collaborating Japanese researchers are being
supported principally by the Japanese Ministry of
Education, Science, Sports and Culture.
NSF has made thirty awards under the program thus far,
and current set of projects includes highly innovative
and multidisciplinary research topics, each with a
significant educational component. Subject areas include,
for example, studies of the effects of near-field
ground motions, earthquake resistant design for lifelines
and foundations, performance-based design, perceptions
of earthquake impacts and loss-reduction preferences
of citizens, and disaster mitigation for urban transportation
systems. These projects involve significant interaction
between U.S. and Japanese researchers and are enabling
researchers from both countries to accomplish goals
that they could not accomplish separately.
As another example, following the earthquakes in Turkey
and Taiwan in 1999, NSF established a research program
to support exploratory research that would lead to
collaborations between U.S. researchers and their
counterparts in Turkey and Taiwan. Many of these collaborations
were established well before the destructive earthquakes.
Workshops in both countries will be held during the
summer, 2001, and research opportunities will be identified.
NSF will work with counterpart agencies in Turkey
and Taiwan to establish a research program similar
in operation to that developed for the collaborations
with Japan. In a similar fashion, NSF will be open
to proposals for collaborative research between U.S.
and international colleagues following the Nisqually
NSF has long recognized that its mission to advance
science and engineering in the U.S. includes providing
the academic community with requisite resources for
developing world-class research facilities and equipment.
And NEHRP legislation has reinforced our own expectations
regarding this important role for NSF. Let me provide
some examples of our efforts to ensure that U.S. researchers
have the required facilities to conduct cutting-edge
research well into the next century.
George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering
Congress has authorized funding for the George E. Brown,
Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation
for a five-year construction period from October 1,
1999 through September 30, 2004, for a total of $81.9
million. This project is the result of a planning
process called for in the 1997 NEHRP reauthorization
legislation, from which NSF, in collaboration with
the other NEHRP partners, developed a comprehensive
plan for modernizing and integrating experimental
earthquake engineering research facilities in the
U.S. The goal of NEES is to provide a national, networked
collaboratory of geographically distributed, shared
use next-generation experimental research equipment
sites, with teleobservation and teleoperation capabilities.
I am happy to report progress in the construction of
NEES. Eleven equipment awards have been made in the
first phase of construction. These awards include
funding for two shake table sites, two centrifuge
sites, a tsunami wave basin, four large-scale laboratory
testing sites, and two mobile laboratories for field
experimentation and monitoring, including post-earthquake
damage evaluation. This equipment portfolio provides
unique, new and advanced research capabilities for
the nation's earthquake engineering research community.
Construction of the NEES network has also started,
with a scoping study award made to the NEESgrid team
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The NEES program will leverage public and private
investments in the $100 billion-a-year information
technology industry by using existing software and
making effective use of the high-speed networking
infrastructure that is one of NSF's most successful
investments. We believe that this utilization of advanced
IT will enable the earthquake engineering research
field to move from a reliance on physical testing
to integrated model-based simulation. This will be
a major transition for earthquake engineering research
and lead to results that rapidly help advance performance-based
design concepts for earthquake engineering and hazard
reduction in the nation.
In addition to providing access for telepresence at
the NEES equipment sites, the network will use cutting-edge
tools to link high performance computational and data
storage facilities, including a curated repository
for experimental and analytical earthquake engineering
and related data. The network will also provide distributed
physical and numerical simulation capabilities and
resources for visualization of experimental and computed
data. In addition to the NEES equipment sites, the
network will provide connectivity to other major earthquake
engineering equipment sites that bring unique experimental
capabilities to NEES, both in the United States and
The collaboratory, including experimentation sites
networked together through the high performance Internet,
is on schedule and on budget for completion by the
end of FY2004.
NEES will also serve as a major educational tool. By
being Internet-based, the collaboratory will be accessible
by researchers, students, professional engineers,
owners of public and private works, and the general
public. For example, teachers and students at all
levels throughout the U.S. will be able to access
the network for data, information, and course material
as well as to participate in various experiments.
Involvement with NEES will also enable students to
sharpen skills in utilizing modern information technology
tools and resources. Such learning opportunities could
be made available for pre-college students, as well
as college students, ushering in an unprecedented
appreciation for earthquake problems and a new age
for earthquake engineering education.
NEES, then, promises to lead to a new age in earthquake
engineering research and education. It will be well
worth our Nation's investment. We look forward to
keeping the Subcommittee informed about its development.
Mr. Chairman, this completes my remarks. I will be
happy to answer any questions that the Subcommittee
might have about NSF's activities.