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National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

A research and implementation partnership


Summary Overview of the Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) Reauthorization Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-360) assigns NIST significant research and development (R&D) responsibilities to improve building codes and standards and practices for structures and lifelines. At the request of NIST, the Applied Technology Council (ATC) developed an R&D roadmap in 2003 to address the research-to-implementation gap, The Missing Piece: Improving Seismic Design and Construction Practices (ATC-57) (PDF 2.6MB).

Rationale for R&D Roadmap Development

As part of the R&D roadmapping effort, 37 national leaders in earthquake engineering design, practice, regulation, and construction fields met in the summer of 2002 to assess the state of knowledge and practice in response to the recently completed NEHRP Strategic Plan. Their assessment was guarded as to whether full advantage was being made of the expanded base of earth sciences and engineering knowledge developed through NEHRP efforts over the prior 25 years.

The consensus of these recognized leaders, including the founding head of NEHRP, was that the gap between engineering and scientific knowledge and its practical application—for design and construction of economical, earthquake-safe structures—had dramatically widened because so much more was now known. As a result the amount known and developed during the prior 25 years of NEHRP exceeded the knowledge put into practice. They concluded that the informational link between theory, research results, and practice is generally weaker than it should be. The group developed and published an R&D roadmap in 2003 to correct the weak link in the chain and thereby improve seismic safety.

The R&D roadmap is intended to be a giant step towards (1) achieving safer and acceptably functional earthquake-resistant structures by bringing the latest technical research and results to practicing engineers and (2) improving the productivity of the seismic design and construction community. The intended outcome is to realize—in real life and in real buildings and lifelines—the potential of the significant investment the nation has made in the past years. At this juncture, the knowledge base has been expanded sufficiently that it is now possible to reap the rewards in improved practice—achieve better earthquake safety, adequate post-earthquake functioning, and more economy in construction. The R&D roadmap establishes a framework through which the practicing engineering professions can form a permanent link with the information and research resources of the federal government and universities and colleges, so that what is known can be put into practice.

The actions recommended in the R&D roadmap are necessary if NEHRP is to be as successful in reducing the national vulnerability to earthquake-caused death and destruction as it could be. This is the last major element of the NEHRP program needed to respond to the lofty goal set by Congress in 1976 to reduce the lives lost in earthquakes and the impact of earthquakes on the U.S. economy. The 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge, CA, earthquakes are harbingers of much greater U.S. earthquake-caused catastrophes yet to happen. The results would have been far worse if one these earthquakes were centered under a major population center instead of an outlying area, as was the case for both of these events. Without the R&D roadmap effort, it will take too long to achieve the desired results—that is, improved seismic design and construction practices.

Summary of R&D Roadmap

The goal of the R&D roadmap is the development of more efficient, effective, and technically reliable practice for earthquake engineering design and construction. The roadmap identifies 2 subject areas with a total of 5 Program Elements. These action areas were determined through a two-day workshop of the 37 leading earthquake experts. Six background papers were commissioned and distributed to the participants to form the basis for the workshop deliberations. The topics and authors of the papers were selected by a planning group through several preparatory meetings and discussions. A summary description of the 2 subject areas and 5 Program Elements is provided below.

Subject area: Systematic support of the seismic code development process.

Program Element 1
Provide technical support for the seismic practice and code development process.

Program Element 2
Develop the technical basis for performance-based seismic engineering by supporting problem-focused, user-directed research and development.

Preparation and maintenance of a building code requires substantial creative and collaborative effort. Few local governments can, in fact, devote such resources to this process. Furthermore, the interests of interstate commerce advocate a commonality among building codes. Therefore, national model building codes have become popular in the United States. A local or state government can adopt a national model code with amendments appropriate for local conditions.

Most of the technical provisions in model codes are not actually written by the developers of the model codes. Instead, model codes either incorporate technical provisions or cite by reference from accredited national and international standards and guidelines developed through a voluntary consensus process. The volunteer-supported model code development process has been aided by FEMA’s support to prepare the NEHRP Recommended Provisions for Seismic Regulation of New Buildings and Other Structures and its efforts in specific areas. These efforts have addressed many but not all priority needs.

Subject area: Improve seismic design and construction productivity.

Program Element 3
Support the development of technical resources (e.g., guidelines and manuals) to improve seismic engineering practice.

Program Element 4
Make evaluated technology available to practicing professionals in the design and construction communities.

Program Element 5
Develop tools to enhance the productivity, economy and effectives of the earthquake resistant design and construction process.

The productivity and effectives of the interaction between the seismic design and construction communities is affected by a variety of factors. These include (1) the makeup of the engineering design and construction industry, which consists of a large number of small clients, vendors, designers, and contractors; (2) the complexity of and wide variety of construction types, including buildings of varying height, seize, and construction materials, and a wide range of transportation and utility infrastructure facilities; (3) the availability of modern tools to improve efficiency; and (4) the availability of new technology and information for reducing the effects of earthquakes on the built environment.

Given the decline in productivity of the U.S. design and construction industry and the widening gap between NEHRP-developed engineering knowledge and its application, the R&D roadmap encompasses both a major technology transfer effort and a major effort to improve productivity of the design and construction industry.

Technical Program Elements

The R&D roadmap identified two pressing needs, corresponding to the Systematic Support of Seismic Code Development Process (Program Elements 1 and 2), that must be addressed to improve the effectives of the code development process.

Program Element 1
Technical Support for Seismic Practice and Code Development

The objective of this Program Element is to provide specific technical support to the committees that develop model codes and the documents upon which the model codes depend. This support is needed to address in a timely manner critical short-term practical, applied research projects intended to directly support making sound technical decisions in the code development process. The effort would be accomplished by systematically identifying needs and resources, then prioritizing, designing, conducting, vetting, and communicating the results of the studies intended to answer the needs. The R&D roadmap outlines a detailed process to identify issues for study at the rate of about 20 per year and lists 20 specific issues to get started.

Program Element 2
Problem-Focused Research to Support the Development of Performance-Based Seismic Design Concepts and Guidelines

The objective of this Program Element is to support long-term problem-focused studies on performance-based seismic engineering that can form the technical basis for the next generation of seismic codes. Current codes are specification based, that is, specific prescribed or proscribed steps to be followed and verified. Performance-based seismic engineering is an area of engineering practice that is rapidly developing, and which will have wide application to the evaluation and upgrade (rehabilitation and retrofit) of existing structures and the design and construction of new structures. This approach envisions a series of technologies that will enable the development of structures that would provide predictable and desirable performance in future earthquakes. The R&D roadmap identifies work to develop standard measures of performance, systems for qualifying the performance capability of construction components, tools for predicting performance, performance translation tools for experimental data, construction systems capable of providing desired performance, sensor development and calibration, systems for monitoring performance, and appropriate simulation and experimentation projects.

The R&D roadmap identified three pressing needs, corresponding to Improving Seismic Design and Construction Productivity (Program Elements 3, 4, and 5), that must be addressed to improve the productivity of the seismic design and construction process.

Program Element 3
Problem-Focused Research and Technical Resources Development to Improve Seismic Engineering Practice (Guidelines and Manuals Development)

The objective of this Program Element is to provide technical resources, such as tutorials, primers, code commentaries, guidelines, and design manuals that reflect new knowledge and standards of practice. These resources are needed for a wide range of existing prevalent structure types and elements, including buildings and lifelines systems and their structural and nonstructural components. In many instances, the development of such resources will require problem-focused research studies to advance the basis for understanding new methods of practice. Among the issues with high expected impacts are specialized types of facilities (often utility service-related), and specialized construction techniques for which seismic design guidance is not available. The R&D roadmap details an initial five-year effort to develop technical resources and associated high-priority problem-focused research projects.

Program Element 4
Evaluated Technology for Practicing Professionals in the Design and Construction Communities

The objective this Program Element is to evaluate and synthesize available seismic hazard mitigation information and technology, including the wealth of NEHRP-funded research results that have become available over the last 27 years. In some cases, initial results must be updated and revised. The information will be made available in a format that can be used by practicing professional in the design and construction communities. Each activity undertaken as part of this Program Element will be reported in a technical brief format (TechBriefs) pioneered by the Applied Technology Council. Each TechBrief would address a single, focused topic, and its contents would be actionable. Nominally 4-to12 pages in length, TechBriefs are not research papers, but topical, tightly written, and well-illustrated discussions of practical problems faced by many engineering design and construction practitioners. The R&D roadmap identifies 9 different categories of topics for TechBriefs.

Program Element 5
Tools to Enhance the Productivity, Economy, and Effectiveness of the Earthquake-Resistant Design and Construction Process

The objective of this Program Element is to reduce inefficiencies in design and construction practice by integrating and advancing existing computer systems and tools used by the various segments of the design and construction industry. There is a clear need to reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort in document and record keeping, to make more efficient the development and transfer of drawings, and to develop standardized component definitions and details. The R&D roadmap recommends that all seismic design codes, analysis tools, and methods be incorporated and integrated into the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI) effort to develop industry foundation classes (IFCs) for all products. IFCs are an object-based approach to defining all of the attributes of the component, and all of its interfaces with all of the other building systems within a particular construction project. The effort would require systematic and careful planning for implementation, as well as a feasibility study to explore how best to encourage utilization of the completed interoperability capability by the design and construction community. The results of this Program Element will provide a mechanism for more effective competition of U.S. firms in the international design and construction markets.

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