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2009 Lawson Lecture: Abstract

The 2009 Lawson Lecture
Building Resilient Communities:
Fresh Challenges for Earthquake Professionals

Chris D. Poland, SE, FSEAOC


Healthy communities grow by leveraging intellectual capital to drive economic development while protecting cultural heritage. Success depends on a built environment that is rooted in contemporary urban planning, sustainability, and disaster resilience, including the ability to rebound from major disasters. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the most likely threat with the most widespread effects are earthquakes. Great strides have been made in recent years in characterizing major earthquakes, as well as in building for and recovering from them. Tools such as seismic hazard maps, performance-based building codes, and integrated emergency response plans all demonstrate remarkable progress in the past 30 years alone. Now, action plans for reducing losses in future earthquakes have stalled. Misunderstanding, complacency, poor funding inhibit progress, and are exacerbated by the lack of persistent lobbying from earthquake experts. Fundamentally, the policy changes we need in order to build necessary resilience is in part blocked by a lack of understanding in the public and policymakers of what is expected to happen during a major earthquake.

The solution: Craft the message in broad terms that name the hazard, define performance, and establish performance goals that represent the resiliency needed to support a community's natural ability to rebound from a major seismic event. The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) has instituted a Resilient City Initiative. Three study groups were established to sort out the issues and assure that the Bay Area will not succumb to the dilemmas that are preventing post-Katrina restoration of the Gulf Coast. Working with earthquake professionals, SPUR is using transparent goals consistent with current policies and programs, and an intuitive vocabulary to define performance goals for the built environment. It also is defining five performance measures for buildings and three for lifeline systems to establish an intuitive understanding of expected post-event building and system performance.

SPUR's framework forms a vocabulary and structure that will mature during implementation. It also provides fresh challenges to the earthquake profession to develop a common voice with which to communicate the new tools needed to achieve the necessary transparency and support community resilience.