• Peek was born and raised in Kansas, where she completed her undergraduate work in sociology at Ottawa University. She earned her master’s in education at Colorado State University then her PhD in sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder.

    Peek discusses growing up in a tornado-prone state. She has vivid memories of the storm cellar during tornado watches, and her grandparents’ barn and home being damaged by a tornado. But she did not consider a career in the field of natural disasters until she became a graduate assistant at the Natural Hazards Center at UCB, which, she says, launched her career as a disaster researcher. As a sociologist, she sought to study inequality in society, but as a grad student she also became intellectually fascinated with the interdisciplinary nature of the field. And she deeply appreciates the care that practitioners and policy makers bring to research. Today, she directs the Natural Hazards Center, which was founded over 40 years ago.

    Peek explains that the center is one of the nation’s oldest social science and multidisciplinary research centers. It was founded by Gilbert White to assess and to reduce losses from natural hazards by bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers. She says the center’s goal is to make a more just and equitable world where humans can live in harmony with nature. It is vital to translate knowledge to communities, she says.

    The center’s Quick Response Research Program, funded by NSF, provides small grants to researchers to collect perishable data after a disaster. The researchers then write papers and new grants which can lead to breakthroughs. Peek cites an example of a graduate student who looks at the use of prisoners for labor in disaster-response situations.

    In order to bring researchers together, the center holds an annual workshop in July. Also, working with partner organizations, the center provides a publication called Disaster Research as well as one called Research Counts, 700-750 word stories with key insights. Peek says the idea is to get knowledge out to communities who may not have time or resources to read scholarly research. She says the idea is to democratize knowledge, to get it into the hands of people on the ground.

    The CONVERGE center honors the growing body of knowledge in convergence science. One of NSF’s 10 big ideas, convergence is about diverse scientific fields joining to solve key problems – such as mitigating damage from natural hazards.

    Peek says that although the language of convergence may be new, the approach is not. She hopes that the CONVERGE facility will systematize multidisciplinary research and provide a structure for social science researchers to work with the engineers in the facilities under the NHERI umbrella.

    Peek helped develop the NHERI science plan, where she helped bridge the divide between social and engineering sciences. She sees many interconnections and possibilities for research.

    She discusses “team science,” which necessitates developing a process for researchers with different perspectives and skills to talk to one another. Researchers need to learn to co-define problems, she says, and develop a shared language.

    Peek says CONVERGE had 5 major tasks in the works. One is partnering with NHERI’s DesignSafe team to develop and build social science and interdisciplinary data models. Like the engineers using DesignSafe, social scientists will be able to publish and share their data, protocols and instruments.

    The CONVERGE team also is working with the NHERI RAPID facility at the University of Washington to develop a social science component of the “RAPID App.” Peek says this will allow for social scientists and multidisciplinary teams to use the App for reconnaissance and recovery research. She is excited, for instance, to discover what social scientists can learn from using drones.

    She hopes that the work will lead to the creation of a new science plan that will encourage researchers to ask new kinds of questions.

    What if the Cascadia fault were to rupture tomorrow? Peek explains that CONVERGE will create a rapid response “leadership corps.” Leaders of NHERI and the -EER groups (extreme events reconnaissance) will work together to develop guidance for the post disaster space, she says. The leadership corps will support Social Science Extreme Events Research (SSEER) and Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Extreme Events Research (ISEEER) networks in their

    efforts to map and coordinate social science and multidisciplinary research teams.

    The CONVERGE facility will also fund reconnaissance teams in social science and interdisciplinary teams.

    With CONVERGE, Peek hopes to address the sense of urgency, she says, that increases with each natural disaster that befalls the nation. Peek is determined to generate forward movement in natural hazards disaster mitigation.

    One important aspect of that is to bring new researchers into the field. As a professor, she says she’s encouraged to see more and more students with diverse social and educational backgrounds interested in pursuing natural hazards research. We are going to need them in the future, she says.

    Natural Hazards Center



    converge.colorado.edu (soon to be online)

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  • Frank Lombardo

    Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Wind Engineering Research Laboratory

    University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

    On the cusp of Hurricane Florence, host Dan Zehner was lucky enough to meet up with wind engineer Frank Lombardo. Based at the University of Illinois, Lombardo studies extreme wind events and and their effects on structures.

    Lombardo says he has always been interested in weather. As a college student, he briefly considered atmospheric science, but went into civil engineering. When looking at graduate programs, the multidisciplinary PhD program in wind science and engineering at Texas Tech appealed to him. He completed his PhD there in 2009 and was hired on faculty as a hazards engineer at U of I.

    He describes his focus: wind engineering and extreme events: thunderstorms, tornados and hurricanes. He says the scientific community doesn’t know a lot about how thunder storms and tornados and affect buildings. Considered annually, the majority of wind-related losses in the U.S. tend to be from tornados and thunderstorms.

    Currently, building codes don’t consider how thunderstorm and tornado loads affect structures, he says. He is part of an ASCE working group collects data on storms so engineers can mitigate for them in the future.

    Lombardo and Zehner discuss the differences between hurricanes and other wind storms. Hurricanes are easier to sample, he says. You have advance notice and the winds are large scales. Thunderstorm and tornado winds are smaller scale, and so harder to capture. Part of his work is developing new instruments to capture tornadic and thunderstorm winds. Wind engineers need sturdy, accurate instrumentation, he says, which means they collaborate frequently with Industrial and electrical engineers.

    Solutions are inherently multidisciplinary, Lombardo says.

    He discusses his newly created measurement tool, a “wind loading cube,” which is a four-foot cube. Lombardo and his team are testing out the novel device in Hurricane Florence.

    He discusses the way he designs projects: get full scale data, try to replicate it in wind tunnels – which will, with luck, lead to strategies for damage mitigation.

    The cube is heavy and anchored to the ground. It will measure wind loads on the cube. During the upcoming storm Florence, he plans to deploy in the Wilmington, NC, with University of Florida wind engineer Forrest Masters, who will be here with his wind measurement towers.

    Lombardo’s research mission to Wilmington is part of the Structural Extreme Events Reconnaissance, or StEER, network, which (among other things) coordinates official event responses. Deploying during a storm to collect perishable data is an integrated effort, Lombardo says. He discusses the importance of post storm surveys.

    Overall in his research, he hopes to determine factors responsible for damage to structures. Many variables come into play, he says. Not just wind, but there is terrain, structural aerodynamics, and the structure itself. Has it been “hardened” for a storm? All the factors combine to determine factors that cause damage.

    He discusses new ways for determining tornado and thunderstorm wind strength. After storms, intensity is determined by damage, not wind speed. Lombardo is examining things like tree fall patterns and vortex patterns to estimate speed of winds.

    As part of the ASCE committee on wind storms, he knows that the ASCE’s 2022 building codes will include tornado design. His committee hopes to build wind speeds into code – although other factors are key, such as atmospheric pressure, rotation load, upward winds and debris.

    Practical measures are important, Lombardo says. He says one way to protect your home from severe winds is to reinforce your garage doors. For roofs, you could even use hurricane straps. In his lab, he’s exploring devices for protecting home roofs, which are vulnerable in wind storms.

    Lastly, Lombardo and Zehner discuss predictions for Hurricane Florence wind and storm surge. Follow Lombardo and his research team on Twitter: @windlaboratory.

  • As this storm approaches, we talk with Laura Block from Team Rubicon about how the organization is mobilizing and planning for a Harvey storm level response if it is needed.

    Support Team Rubicon as the storm approaches!


  • On today’s episode, host Dan Zehner visits Steve Schein, chief instrumentation engineer at the University of Florida’s Powell Family Structures and Material Laboratory.

    From an early age, Steve Schein has been involved in science, coming from a family of engineers and scientists. He earned his degree in electrical and electronic engineering at UF and now enjoys building wind-generating machines for research projects at the Powell Lab.

    A self-described instrumentation and measurement nut, Schein discusses a new wind machine project underway. It is a wall of fans: 319 prop-driven fans, each about 8 inches in diameter, and each driven by a 1 horsepower RC motor. Each fan will be able to individually generate any kind of wind field, such as gusts and turbulence, up to 40 miles per hour.

    Briefly, Schein discusses another project underway at the UF, a scale model of Puerto Rico. The research team is it using to measure the effects of terrain on wind speed — in hopes of understanding damage caused by Hurricane Maria last year.

    Schein describes another wind machine, the Multi-Axis Wind Load Simulator, called MAWLS, which is two stories tall and can generate 200 MPH winds. In one test, using relatively low wind speeds (not even Category five winds), MAWLS winds easily collapsed the type of unreinforced concrete walls typical in Puerto Rican construction.

    Schein discusses building this wall of fans. His team started by building sample systems to see if they could build an apparatus that could make representative winds, such as down drafts, rotational vortices, and high frequency wind-peaks. After determining they could make it work, the team began building the machine from scratch. They 3-D printed most of the parts, including electronics mounting structures and air foils.

    The Powell Lab team is the only one to build such a machine, Schein says. When operating at full capacity, it will consume about a half million watts.

    He discusses some of the problems building the wall and details how it works. Schein says it be running in October and ready for research-testing by fall 2019.

  • In this week’s show, DesignSafe Radio host Dan Zehner talks with newly minted PhD, Barbara Simpson. Simpson discusses her academic path in engineering and what it’s like entering the workplace as a faculty member.

    She says building things out of household articles as a kid naturally led to her career choice. She started in architecture, then switched to civil engineering. A pivotal experience for her was participating in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Illinois — as part of the NSF-funded earthquake engineering initiative called “NEES.” The exposure to earthquake engineering changed her attitude toward academia. She learned about seismic engineering, doing research, and hybrid simulation. She interacted with postdocs and PhD students, wrote a paper and presented at a national conference — in Hawaii.

    The hybrid simulation technique combines physical testing and numerical modelling, and researchers often use it when a structure is too large to test. They will physically test a portion of the structure and simulate the rest in a combined fashion that represents the whole system.

    She went to UC Berkeley for her master’s degree, and she found earthquake engineering so interesting she decided to stay and earn her PhD. In research, she says, there’s always some new problem that needs to be solved. It is never the same thing twice.

    As a graduate student, she focused on testing older types of braced frames, a structural element used to protect against earthquake damage, and saw lots of interesting failures.

    Simpson and Zehner discuss the usefulness of modern earthquake-proof provisions, which standardize protective construction features. She wrote her thesis on a kind of braced frame called a strongback, a tie or truss that you put in buildings to prevent weak stories.

    As a postdoc, Simpson worked at the NHERI SimCenter, where she created an application that is a learning tool for numerically modeling braced frames. Learning to program is an important aspect of being an engineer, she says. Programming languages are tools that can make research easier and more efficient.

    Now on faculty at Oregon State University, she sees that unlike being a PhD student with one cool project to focus on, professors must work on many different things at once. It is harder to choose what to explore, she says. At OSU, the OH Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory presents interesting possibilities for experimentation. She’s interested in control theory, too. She says being a professor is the best job she could ever have: Your research is your choice, she says. Academics have a kind of freedom other careers don’t have.

    She encourages new PhDs to apply for jobs, even if the competition is stiff. Even if you don’t get the job, making an application helps you summarize your PhD work and hone your teaching goals, she says. The application cements what you’ve accomplished and helps you figure out where your career is going.

  • On this week’s episode, host Dan Zehner meets up with political economist and writer Morten Wendelbo. As early as high school, the Denmark native was exposed to international viewpoints that shaped his understanding of the world. Today, he focuses on demographic research in an effort to improve the lives of as many people as possible.

    He earned his bachelor’s degree in global politics and environmental studies from Washington and Lee University and his master’s in international affairs from Texas A&M University, where presently he is heading into a PhD. Despite being a life-long academic, he is committed to communicating science lay public.

    In general, Wendelbo is interested in how humans organize themselves to improve themselves. For example: how do we save lives in the face of natural disasters? We start with data. In disaster studies, people typically quantify the severity of an event by its physical strength: magnitude, wind speed, inches of rain. But those measurements don’t tell us how the event affected people. Those measures tend to be deaths, injuries, economic damage. But those measurements are still incomplete, he says. It’s more complicated than, say, comparing Hurricane Katrina versus Maria. On the face of it, Katrina was a larger disaster, but Wendelbo says we need to measure consequences of disaster on variables such as consumption loss, where what you lose depends on social and educational status. And we have to measure affects that were indirectly caused by the natural hazard, such as anxiety.

    He says we can aggregate such data, but, since indirect consequences can occur months and years later, it is an enormous effort, and furthermore, not terribly useful.

    Predicting disasters, not hazards

    Instead, Wendelbo says, there are ways we can discover in advance where the physical vulnerabilities are and to what degree they’ll affect people. In his research, he uses modeling that looks at different types of social vulnerability. Simply remove the natural hazard and focus on vulnerable populations and areas. Then use the physical model to tell you the areas that will be hardest hit by an earthquake or tsunami.

    He uses the 2015 Nepal earthquake to illustrate how current disaster recovery efforts are clumsy and actually detrimental to the situation: Countries around the world sent help via Katmandu airport and created a huge bottleneck, which hindered rescue efforts. If we could determine where help was needed in advance, we could save lives, he emphasizes.

    He uses USAID data on health and demographics and GPS data to see where people live. If we know a person’s social status, or “social endowments,” Wendelbo says we can see how vulnerable they are — and reverse engineer to solve the problem in advance.

    He envisions a software that, using geospatial info systems, would enable people to view a country and have it auto-populate with hazard risks. The data should be accessible to anyone: government, first responders, local citizens.

    He likes to say that disasters are not a consequence of hazards; it’s the hazard and how it affects people, depending on their level of wealth and education. He proposes modeling consequences of disaster (not just fatalities) based not only on where, but who people are. This information would help in disaster response – and in creating resilient communities.

    Currently, Wendelbo is studying the long-term consequences of earthquakes in Nepal, in terms of variables such as health, education, ethnicity and social “endowments.” For instance, war has a surprisingly enduring ability to render populations vulnerable to disasters, he says. War affects education, health, access to government services. If we can quantify such things, he says, we can quantify who will be hit, so we can prepare for it and respond better.

    His research is multidisciplinary and relies on academics in disciplines that do not normally communicate: for example, anthropology, natural science, economics. Because, he says, you have to model the physical hazards as well as human behavior. The benefit of such work, he says, is that it can potentially save tens of thousands of lives.

    Just consider the enormous expense of disaster relief, he says. We could save more lives if we invested the funds in advance — in resilience. But, he says, it is hard to get people’s attention, to persuade people to spend money on resilience.

    Wendelbo is interested in talking across disciplines — including with NHERI research engineers.

    He publishes essays and research at TheConversation.com, a publishing platform for academics and subject-matter experts. The articles are available to read and share under the Creative Commons license.

  • Hermann Fritz

    School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

    Georgia Tech

    In this episode, host Dan Zehner interviews Georgia Tech tsunami researcher Hermann Fritz. Professor Fritz discusses his unusual academic focus and his current project creating a tsunami generating machine at the University of Oregon.

    As a civil engineering graduate student at ETH Zurich, he was interested in studying flooding. Switzerland is highly exposed to flooding, landslides and other hazards related to climate. Fritz explains that as the permafrost line lowers, rocks and mountains become less stable.

    As for studying landslide-generated waves, the trigger point for Fritz came from observing a human-generated landslide into Lake Lucerne. Although the resulting impulse wave did not match experimental simulations, Fritz was nevertheless fascinated by the work and spurred to study waves generated by landslides for his PhD.

    He says a big challenge in tsunami research is that tsunamis are poorly documented, typically limited to observations of post-event occurrences like runups, scars and broken foliage.

    Fritz provides a rundown of the events he’s studied, including the July 9, 1958, Lituya Bay tsunami in Alaska – one of the first tsunamis observed in modern times. The landslide was “like an elephant in a bathtub,” he says. Fritz had a chance to meet with survivors of the event, the Swensons, who happened to be on a boat that day and were able to provide a unique eye-witness account of the disaster. In that case, Fritz says, there was good agreement between the physical model and the event.

    A more recent event he’s studied was the June 2017 landslide in Greenland. The giant rockslide caused a tsunami with a runup of more than 90 meters.

    As a young professor at Georgia Tech, Fritz had the opportunity to study the aftermath of the December 26, 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. He is grateful, he says, for being able to learn from a pioneering survey team at the site. He learned from the likes of USC Professor Costas Synolakis. The Indian Ocean tragedy proved to be a great learning experience for Fritz as an early career researcher. The basin-wide impact affected Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Sumatra. During the post event reconnaissance, the team analyzed video taken by eye witnesses, which enabled the researchers to calibrate flow velocities.

    Fritz also had the opportunity to study impact of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan – which he had visited just 18 months prior to the event to observe the region’s extensive preparation for disaster: tsunami dykes, seawalls and vertical evacuation. Despite it all, 20,000 people perished. Fritz collected field data and analyzed video. It is one of the best documented tsunamis ever, he says.

    Submarine volcanic eruptions. At Oregon State University’s Hinsdale Wave Research Lab, a NHERI facility, Fritz is utilizing the tsunami wave basin to build physical models of submarine volcanoes with what may be the world’s first volcanic tsunami generator. The models fill in gaps that are difficult to observe directly.

    Fritz discusses the rare, submarine volcano generated tsunamis that have happened in the past, including the island of Santorini in Greece and, more recently, Krakatoa – which killed 35,000 people due to landslides and tsunami. In the Hinsdale lab, the largest such facility in the U.S., Fritz can conduct large-scale experiments in a wave tank the size of an Olympic swimming pool,

    Not only are volcanic tsunamis rare, they are compounded by ash, pyroclastic surges, and other characteristics, which make them difficult to study. In the lab, he says, he can isolate the elements. He is isolating the vertical explosion, wave propagation, landslide generation, the runup, the caldera formation -- all phases of an underwater volcano. The study will answer questions like: what kind of waves do we get, and how do they compare with other types of landslide or earthquake generated waves?

    Follow Professor Fritz on Twitter: @hermfritz

  • This week Dan meets storm chaser Warren Causey, founder of The Sirens Project. Causey, an engineer with a lifelong passion for weather, studies tornadoes from a safe distance, using unmanned aerial vehicles, drones. In the interview, Causey describes growing up in Georgia and chasing storms in the mountainous Southeast, in Dixie Alley. Hoping to design weather research systems, he studied mechanical engineering, including 3D modeling and drone development. Chemistry gelled with college classmates Nolan Lunsford and Brent Bouthiller, he says, “And it escalated from there.” The three formed The Sirens Project. They study supercells and tornadoes by guiding UAVs directly into the storms. Causey details how Sirens started as a Kickstarter project, and he discusses the team’s partnership with Ag Eagle, a UAV manufacturer specializing in rugged UAVs used in farming applications. As citizen scientists, the team is careful to avoid intercepting tornadoes near populated areas. He describes the ideal intercept: a slow-moving EF4 tornado in Kansas, in the middle of nowhere. He relates his experience with the El Reno, Oklahoma, tornado on May 31, 2013. Several storm chasers lost their lives that day, including the respected meteorologist Tim Samaras, when the storm made an unexpected change-of-course. The tragic incident spurred Causey to start The Sirens Project, a safer way to study storms. Causey says working with fellow researchers is necessary for gathering more data — data that will lead to improved forecasting and storm-resistant structures. Ultimately, he wants to create models for forecasting convection, which would allow for mapping how and where tornadoes will “fire” — which would reduce false-alarms. The supercell storms that spawn tornadoes change abruptly, require many variables to generate a tornado, and are very short-lived, all of which makes tornadoes more difficult to forecast than hurricanes. The Sirens Project team is prepping for the 2018 storm season and producing a documentary on stormchasing. Causey encourages fellow weather enthusiasts to contact the group. “We love interacting with other stormchasers,” he says.

  • Legendary hurricane hunter Frank Marks Today’s guest is Frank Marks, legendary NOAA meteorologist and tropical cyclone expert. Since the 1980s, he’s flown 10,000 hours on NOAA’s P3 Orion aircraft, including through many, many hurricanes. Marks, who now leads NOAA’s Hurricane Research Division, clearly enjoys learning. He shares some of his favorite experiences with us. Curiosity and a career path. He got curious about weather in grade school. His neighbor, a science teacher, kept weather instruments in his yard. Soon Marks was one of his students, learning how to make measurements with such instruments. He joined the school’s weather club and learned things like how to decode meteorological messages that came in by teletype machine. He explains using “old fashioned” methods of gathering and interpreting data to make forecasts, which were and posted at school every day. He lived near an IBM facility, and he describes a senior class project that involved learning how to program an IBM computer, using punch cards, to do meteorological work. In college, Marks enjoyed learning from brilliant professors and became interested in fluid dynamics. In graduate school at MIT, he had an opportunity to do a three-month internship in Senegal -- to work on an important Atlantic tropical weather experiment that involved multiple aircraft and a fleet of weather ships. It was a life-changing experience. Marks urges young researchers to take risks when opportunities knock. He details his “trial by fire” during that internship, which included doing a lot of analysis by hand. Eventually, by studying lots of data and watching for patterns, he became an expert on tropical convection variability. That internship led to a job offer from NOAA’s hurricane research lab — where he’s worked for the past 37 years.

  • Raised and schooled in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, from an early age David Prevatt was interested in science and structures. As an islander, he also grew up sailing and windsurfing. He recollects the exhilarating feeling of using wind power to skim the waves. He earned his bachelor’s in civil engineering from the University of the West Indies. After a stint as a civil engineer in Trinidad and Tobago, his curiosity and interest in research took him to Clemson University where he earned his master’s and PhD degrees in civil engineering.

    Prevatt describes wind as a natural force, not a “disaster” in and of itself Disaster happens, he says, when we make buildings that are inadequately prepared to resist the wind. That is why he is grateful for the NHERI network. He sees tremendous value in having all types of natural hazards engineers working towards resilient communities.

    The community is a force of its own, Prevatt explains. Communities in hazard-prone areas need to start making hard decisions. Should they build stronger? Or should they perhaps build in areas that are not prone to hazards like strong winds? Communities need to assess their risk tolerance.

    He discusses his research on extreme wind hazards, hurricanes, in the Caribbean. Our human nature, he says, makes it difficult for us to be rational. We tend not to remember bad events in the past, or at least think the unfortunate event won’t happen in the near-term future.

    In fact, Prevatt’s first research paper, written in the early 1990s, concluded that if Caribbean nations did not take steps to address their vulnerability to hurricane risk, hurricane disasters would happen again. Hurricane David destroyed Dominique. Monserrat was devastated by Hugo. Now, 25 years later, many billions have been spent on construction that did not take hurricanes under consideration, he says, so it is not surprising what has happened to these countries in recent storms, he says.

    Prevatt discusses human biases that lead poor community decisions. As an engineer, he says accurate data on hazard risks is the best tool for convincing communities to manage their risks. But even with data provided by groups like FEMA -- $1 spent on hazard reduction provides six times the future benefit – he acknowledges that communities continue to spend on immediate things, not on long term preventive measures.

    He explains how the market help could convince consumers that they should purchase a house that’s build stronger than the local code, one that will last longer and have an increased level of safety. It is a hard argument for countries in the developing world, he says. He wants people rebuilding in the Caribbean to ask questions from engineers and other experts – and get straight answers -- before they rebuild in the same unsafe ways.

    In his reconnaissance trip to of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Prevatt describes seeing new construction going up that did not take future storm damage into account. There were engineering and economic questions that were not considered. He cites an example: new phone poles went in right were the old ones had been. Which means the new poles are just as likely to fail. Post disaster is the time to consider improvements, he says, such as redundancies and backups.

    He proposes that island standards perhaps should be different than mainland standards – so they can be more self-sufficient after a disaster. Prevatt cites grim statistics: In Puerto Rico, 93% of the country’s GDP will be going to rebuilding efforts.

    He discusses traditional building techniques in the Carribean. Roof-to-wall connections often fail, often due to large eaves, structural elements that provide shade. He discusses ways that the Carribean communities could become more resilient. A wind-resilient neighborhood is safer, and there is a market for that, he argues.

    Such communities need to hold their leaders’ feet to the fire to make hard, long-term decisions.

    Although Prevatt is generally optimistic, he quotes an ASCE engineer who studied tornado wind loads and proposed building tornado-resistant houses – in 1897.

    As a researcher, he poses important philosophical questions about our seemingly irrational inability to apply important lessons that research offers. Nevertheless, Prevatt loves his work as a wind engineer. Given even a small chance that he might succeed in changing the state of affairs, he continues to research and provide data-driven advice. Indeed, he could help a lot. Plus, he says, he has fun.

    As well as doing research, he teaches at the University of Florida. He loves guiding really smart students – who are the future of hazards engineering.

    One of Prevatt’s most memorable natural disaster experiences was after tropical storm Fran, which caused considerable damage in Trinidad. On a reconnaissance mission, he visited a two-story house had that lost its roof. He remembers that the home owner was jovial at first, making jokes despite her problems. When he investigated, he discovered that although the roof had been designed to be bolted to the walls, the nuts and bolts were not there! The roof had never been properly attached. The discovery shocked and upset the owner – to learn that her damage was preventable. The incident has stuck with him. Prevatt says that he never forgets that the human cost of natural hazards goes beyond physical damage.

  • Today DesignSafe Radio host Dan Zehner meets up with Jennifer Bridge, a research engineer from the University of Florida – and deputy director of UF’s NHERI facility.

    When recalling her initial interest in engineering, she says she enjoyed math and physics in high school, making engineering a natural career path. In college, she majored in civil engineering. A turning point, she says, was when a college job fair unexpectedly landed her a position working as a research assistant for an engineering professor. There, as an undergrad, she learned she liked doing research, and she realized with a PhD she could do research for a living. She briefly describes that early project, which was in wind engineering.

    She earned her master’s and PhD at the University of Illinois. During her master’s studies, she worked with Professor Doug Foutch on wind loads on highway sign structures. The team needed to instrument and monitor sign trusses to find out why they were cracking. She loved the practical nature of the work. For her PhD, she worked with Bill Spencer. She learned about structural health monitoring and to design wireless sensors and platforms for collecting data.

    She describes the kinds of data that are important to collect, including vibration based acceleration data. She describes how structures, because they have inherent dynamic properties, can be monitored to detect damage. She discusses the state of “health monitoring” research and explains one of the more practical uses of the approach, which is to monitor structures with known deficiencies.

    Bridge talks about a project she’s wrapping up, using UAVs to do bridge inspection – which is a visual way to examine structural health. She explains how much of the work involves advanced image processing, which can be used for decision support. UAV flight control is trickier that you’d think, she says, so her team devised a variety of techniques to take photographs in a consistent fashion. She discusses the value of machine in processing images.

    She briefly discusses University of Florida projects that use the NHERI wind tunnel facility to devise real-time structural optimization techniques, which allow engineers to design a structure while it is experiencing a wind load.

    Bridge talks about her current project: in-field, full-scale bridge testing under coastal storm loading. She measures forces that bridges experience during storms. There are good models, she says, but there is not much real data. You can look at damaged bridges, but researchers still don’t know how damage happens. Bridge is aiming to get the info to fill the gap. It means developing the proper instrumentation, a sensor kit that’s fast to set up and strong enough to hold up during a storm – and endure underwater fouling. With NSF and Florida Department of Transportation support, she’s developing an instrumentation system for coastal bridges. She’s hoping for a robust and practical system that works in the real world.

    Bridge has a prototype system on a Tampa Bay bridge, and she’s hoping to instrument as many as 10 Florida bridges commonly in the paths of storms and hurricanes.

  • For earthquake engineer Kara Peterman, joining the high school robotics team was a defining experience. She discovered she loved the applied sciences. So, when she entered Swarthmore College, she majored in engineering. Because she loved buildings and architecture, and she liked the idea of designing resilient structures, she decided to a focus in structural engineering.

    She wanted to be a professional engineer, so she enrolled in the master’s program at Johns Hopkins University. She discovered she loved research, so she switched to the PhD program. She didn’t want to give up on the idea of a being a PE, but research was too important, she says. At Johns Hopkins, she learned that she loved experiments. She found the unknown compelling. Research is like a mystery, she says. You work until you have enough clues to solve the problem.

    As a PhD candidate, her advisor was Ben Schafer, who introduced her to shake table testing. Currently she’s working with him as a colleague, along with Prof Tara Hutchinson of UC San Diego, on an industry-supported shake test at the LH POST facility at UC San Diego.

    The team is developing the shake experiment with the American Iron and Steel Institute. Peterman describes the cold-formed steel project, which involves multiple components, including testing of isolated diaphragms, a fancy term for floor or roof.

    Peterman discusses preparations for the November and December 2018 shake tests which will include performance testing of diaphragms. Another part of the test is discovering the effects of

    earthquake acceleration. The team will be looking capture deformations, captured by displacement sensors.

    Peterman details what is involved in planning for a major shake table test. On this test, the team is getting input from industry as well as from research engineers. They can’t test everything, she says, so the team puts together a short list of tests. Next, they will design the specimens, balancing theoretical versus practical building designs. Then, the team will order building materials and build the specimen.

    When it comes to lessons learned, Peter recommends an article called The importance of stupidity in academic research from the blog Sh*t Academics Say. The article recommends researchers being at ease with the fact they don’t know. There is no room for ego in research, she says. If you want to trust your work, you need to validate it.

    As for bad advice, Peterman hearkens back to her days on the high school robotics team when the advisor told her, “do what you’re good at” and assigned her to a task she was familiar with: writing — when she wanted to build robots. If you only do what you are good at, she says, how can you explore and learn? At first, she was not good at engineering. But, she says, things worth having are worth working for.

    She says it took her years to cultivate confidence in her work. In the lab, everyone competes for resources. So even if you lack confidence, she says, you need to put yourself out there and say, “I need this, I need you to do this.” It is often easier to let the seemingly more confident people take precedence, she says, but young researchers need to be more assertive. You are not being “bossy.” You just need to make sure your work gets priority.

    Look forward to learning more about Peterman’s research at the NHERI-DesignSafe website. Meanwhile, read Peterman’s 2013 CFS-NEES blog about the experience of shake-testing cold-formed steel structures, which also appeared as in encapsulated form on Live Science.

  • Dan Lander and Dan Moore are wind engineers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute doing research using NHERI’s Wall of Wind facility at Florida International University. On this week’s show, they talk about their project and offer advice to prospective wind engineers.

    Australian-born Dan Lander originally wanted to build things. When he discovered construction engineering held no joy for him, he switched to civil engineering, where he finds plenty of joy studying fluid dynamics. He recently completed his PhD at RPI. Dan Moore, about halfway through his PhD program at RPI, is from Vermont. Working the night-shift at a wind tunnel facility at the U of Vermont, he was fascinated by the invisible power of the wind – and by researchers with the skill to analyze the wind’s behavior. The pair do research together at RPI, with professor and wind engineer Chris Letchford.

    Dan and Dan discuss their current project, which is examining the fundamental mechanisms that cause buildings to fail on the leading edge (roof eaves) under high wind loads. Lander says the goal is to design better tests for wind engineers, and then to build better wind-resistant structures.

    Lander says the Wall of Wind facility is an ideal size -- almost full scale, so they can get plenty of detailed data in a controlled environment. The researchers talk about the difficulties involved in scaling wind to small model structures. They discuss fluid dynamics and understanding what exactly the aerodynamic loading does that causes buildings to fail.

    In their WoW experiments, they work with “archetype geometry,” squares and rectangles that mimic basic building shapes. Because fundamental research relates to how flow moves around squares and rectangles, the basic shapes are better than exact building models, they explain. There are a surprising number of complicated problems and unanswered questions they hope to address.

    They discuss they types of sensors they use and, as they are in the early stages of the project, the importance of doing flow conditioning to “smooth out” the wind flow. They’ll introduce turbulence later in the study.

    They explain the interdisciplinary nature of their work – which allows them to approach problems from different perspectives. Concurrently with the WoW experiments, the pair is running experiments at RPI in the aeronautical lab wind tunnel – where they get different types of data – and insights. At RPI’s Center for Flow Physics and Control, aeronautic engineers look at air foils and have different techniques for measuring flow – which are useful to wind engineers.

    Moore and Lander have good advice. For engineering students considering wind engineering, make sure you get along with your advisor, Lander says. Make sure it’s someone you could maybe have a beer with. In general, research can be isolating, so surround yourself with people who inspire you and who you’re happy to be with.

    As for research advice, Moore urges young researchers to stay persistent, to keep moving, even when a problem is frustrating. Lander suggests keeping good notes, whether on paper, in Excel, or in Matlab. And he recommends that researchers foster collaboration. It’s fruitful to have another mind looking at the problem with you, he says.

    Host Dan Zehner adds that research notes also are important when it comes to data curation, so others can pick up where you leave off.

  • Hurricane season 2018: Let’s get prepped

    This week, we get prepped for the 2018 hurricane season with emergency management specialist Tom Iovino from the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County. Host Dan Zehner talks with Iovino about some less than obvious dangers related to hurricanes, and Iovino proffers excellent great advice for anyone near hurricane-prone areas, from Texas to Maine.

    Iovino says that the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, and the Colorado State University hurricane researchers predict a slightly more intense hurricane season for 2018.

    The good news, Iovino says, is that a hurricane gives you warning. So people in the affected areas have time to prepare and act.

    He describes the personalities of last year’s hurricanes: Big, slow-moving Harvey in Houston that dropped three feet of rain up to 100 miles inland. Irma, which was supposed to wallop South Florida as a Cat 5 but took a last-minute turn, helping the Tampa Bay area dodge devastation. And Maria, which destroyed most of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

    Iovino recommends we guard against “hurricane amnesia.” It’s not just coastal areas; even inland cities, like Atlanta, can be affected by tornadoes and heavy rains.

    Primary problems, post hurricane, are lack of cellular and electrical service. Iovino reminds us of the senior care center in Florida that didn’t have a generator – causing patients to die.

    Shadow evacuation is when people in non-evacuation zones evacuate anyway – causing tremendous traffic delays. Iovino says we need to educate people that for non-evacuation zones, designated local shelters are safe. You don’t need to drive far to be safe.

    Special needs? If you or a family member has special medical needs, talk with your physician or local health department to get on a local “special needs” list. Don’t wait until the hurricane is bearing down on you. Get on a local list immediately so you can have a plan.

    Iovino has a list of excellent tips for everyone in hurricane-prone areas.

    Next time you shop, buy batteries and water. Fill water or pop bottles about half-full with tap water. Freeze them and use them to keep food cold when the power is out. Flashlights! Buy several and keep them handy. Try to have the same battery size for your radio and flashlights. Keep insurance policy numbers, and key contact numbers, in your wallet. What about your pets? Decide how and where you’ll transport them. Be sure to pack your medicines.

    Remember that “stuff is stuff,” Iovino says. “But lives can never be replaced.”

    Visit these places for more details about disaster forecasting and planning:

    gov National Hurricane Center Your county emergency management office Your nearest local weather office for down-to-the-minute forecasts
  • On this week’s episode host Dan Zehner talks with Maggie Exton, a PhD candidate at Oregon State University focusing on tsunami inundation. She talks about her interest in engineering and her current research project: creating tsunamis on a centrifuge.

    She says her father, a sculptor, helped interest her in building things as a kid. As an undergraduate at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute she studied materials science and engineering. Also at RPI she earned her master’s degree in geotechnical engineering. She learned to love centrifuge modeling at RPI, where she modeled levees.

    It is a heady feeling being in graduate school and focusing primarily research, she says. It can be confusing trying to figure out everything that’s going on.

    Although she’s working on her PhD with tsunami experts at Oregon State University (one of the eight NHERI facilities), she and her research group are performing some of their experiments at the Center for Geotechnical Modeling at UC Davis, another NHERI facility. She describes working with the large, nine-meter radius centrifuge at the CGM, where her research team is building a “tsunami box” to spin on the centrifuge. The spinning centrifuge can model – very quickly – the effects of a tsunami wave on soil. They model the tsunami runup in .1 seconds, she says. The centrifuge tests at 40g, spinning at 63rpm.

    Her team is the first to model a tsunami on the centrifuge, and building the tsunami box is a trial-and-error process. She describes the intricate experiment, which must have a reservoir of water, a gate to release water over the soil sample, and then another gate to let the water flow out. To make it work, she says, there’s intensive collaboration between her research group at OSU and the faculty at UC Davis.

    The tsunami box needs to be adjustable so researchers can configure it as they continue their experiments. In the initial experiments, she says the flow was too fast, 10 meters per second. Five meters per second is preferable for emulating the tsunami wave. As the tests take place, a video camera records the action – which the researchers play back in slow motion. They added flow tracers, tiny Styrofoam balls, to track the exact movement of the water in the centrifuge.

    This summer Exton will be back at UC Davis for another round of centrifuge testing. After that, she’ll analyze the resulting data. Exton is intrigued by the variety and pace of research underway at UC Davis – and especially the gigantic centrifuge. It’s so big, she says, it’s humbling.

  • This week on the show, we talk about a fascinating subject area: using drones to quickly assess a hazard area after an event and create an extremely detailed and accurate 3D model for researchers to study the effects of earthquakes, hurricanes, or other hazards on a community while the data is still fresh and the site is relatively undisturbed. This work is extremely important because getting scientific data quickly while a community is in the first few days after an event is critical to the understanding of how the hazard affected the area. The people in these communities just want to remove debris, start repairs, and get back to normal quickly so this data is extremely perishable and needs to be gathered rapidly. My guest today is Dr. Kevin Franke from BYU and we'll talk about his work scanning hazard areas from the air.

    Find out more about his important work here:



  • This week, host Dan Zehner talks with Ben Mason, a natural hazards researcher at Oregon State University. Mason talks about his special interests: geotechnical earthquake engineering and soil-fluid-structure interactions.

    Mason says that since childhood, he was interested in how things work. But it wasn’t until his undergraduate days at Georgia Tech that he discovered his deep interest in geotechnical engineering. Professor Larry Jacobs took Mason under his wing and encouraged him to go to graduate school. Mason says he envisioned traveling to earthquake zones and helping communities at risk from earthquakes and tsunamis.

    As a grad student at UC Berkeley, Mason says, he spent a good deal of time working on experiments using the centrifuge at UC Davis, the Center for Geotechnical Modeling. He was examining “soil systems,” that, during an earthquake, affect the ground performance and naturally, the structures sitting on that ground.

    But how exactly does the soil affect how buildings shake? And how can the performance of a soil system be improved? Mason’s interest in soil structure interaction extended to the buildings in dense urban areas — given that in an earthquake, buildings interact with each other through the soil. He says you can see evidence of this in post-earthquake zones like Katmandu, where one poorly performing building can damage many other, stronger buildings nearby. Mason describes how he used the centrifuge to model the problem.

    Now at Oregon State, near the Cascadia Subduction Zone prone to earthquakes and possibly tsunamis, Mason studies soil structure interaction – and the variable of water.

    It is a complex problem, with many compounding factors, he says. You can get photos after a tsunami or earthquake, and you can get images of a building before the event. Still, he says, you can only speculate some of the causes of damage. But, he says, thanks to smartphone video recordings of tsunamis, breakthroughs are being made. Mason mentions that fellow OSU researcher Hermann Fritz pieced together flow velocities of a tsunami based on amateur video footage.

    Mason discusses his current research, also taking place at the UC Davis NHERI facility, which involves modeling a tsunami in a centrifuge. The team designed a tsunami-maker for the centrifuge and rigged up a high-speed camera to track water surface and velocity during testing. The idea is to discover what happened to soil during an earthquake —and a following tsunami – and to see what it may portend for the coastal communities like those along Pacific Northwest.

    Mason says he has excellent working relationships with the team at the Davis-NHERI facility, and he is pleased to be using the DesignSafe cyberinfrastructure. He says the platform is flexible and supports unique data inputs – which is important for researchers providing novel findings. And he and his graduate students like using the DesignSafe software framework.

    For more information on Ben Mason and his research, read up on his faculty page at Oregon State University.

  • Jason Beunker: Profile of a rising research engineer

    On this week’s episode, Dan Zehner speaks with research engineer Jason Beunker. Currently in year two of his PhD, Jason Beunker studies soil structure interaction and seismicity at UCLA’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

    Why academia? Like many PhD candidates in the field, Beunker returned to academia after working as a professional engineer. He discusses enjoying work for Seattle-based firm Shannon and Wilson and how his projects there actually inspired him to come back to school. He explains the value of applied engineering, logging hours in the field and interacting with knowledgeable clients. Field work gives your analyses more “teeth,” he says. And seeing his designs in action was a rewarding experience.

    Early on, as a civil engineering undergraduate at the University of Illinois, it was just that hands-on nature of geotechnical engineering that appealed to him, he says. It was the right mix of math and science and being outside, getting his hands dirty.

    He explains how, after eight years as a practicing engineer, he was encountering larger projects — with more complex problems and greater technical demands. He decided that, while he was still young, to enroll in a PhD program to build his knowledge in soil structure integration and soil response.

    Research in soft soils. Beunker describes working with UCLA researcher Scott Brandenberg on a project examining shallow foundations on soft soil. (Brandenberg was a recent guest on DesignSafe Radio.) By replicating the response of ground failure and structure failure in these conditions, the work will function as a case history, a guide for future engineers looking at structural responses to earthquake shaking.

    Beunker details his “steep learning curve,” as a hands-on researcher. Brandenberg, a noted expert in soil structures, performs his experiments on the large centrifuges at the UC Davis Center for Geotechnical Modeling, a NHERI facility. New to centrifuge modelling, Beunker describes having to learn the nuts and bolts of centrifuge modelling with help from the support team at UC Davis. “I learned how to model there,” he says, thanks to the deep knowledge on the UC Davis team.

    Host Dan Zehner was eager to learn about Beunker’s experience as a new NHERI researcher. As NHERI’s facility scheduling and operations coordinator, Zehner talked about providing new ways to “flatten the learning curve” for hazards engineers working at experimental faciities.

    Data publishing. Beunker says that all the findings from the project will be posted to DesignSafe in a single Jupyter notebook. Currently he’s working to make the raw data from the experiments usable for colleagues, “dressed up and filtered,” as he puts it. He explains how Jupyter enables embedding direct connections to data in reports, so users can filter and examine the information in various ways.

    We can look forward to hearing more Jason Beunker’s adventures in geotechnical engineering in the coming years.