image-  Seismograph readings registering an earthquake

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What three measurements help scientists determine how an earthquake happens?

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What do the Earthquake Engineering Research Centers do?

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How does the Friction Pendulum System (FPS) work to save buildings?

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Earthquake hazard mitigation work, funded by NSF, developed the knowledge that will estimate seismic hazard and enhance the reliability and performance of our infrastructure systems.

The infrastructure includes buildings, bridges, highways, sewers, water mains and other lifelines on which we all rely when an earthquake disaster occurs. The research is conducted in the field, in experimental laboratories, at computers and in cities after an earthquake occurs.

New progress
Significant progress is being made in understanding why earthquakes occur where they do and where future earthquakes may happen. For the first time,spacethe integration of geologic, seismic and geodetic measurements is drawing a consistent picture of the earthquake mechanism that can be used to lessen damage.

Work is well under way to develop "smart" buildings and bridges that can automatically adjust to earthquake forces. For example, the base-isolation building concept, which is somewhat analogous to large ball bearings, is currently in use at San Francisco's City Hall and at the new San Francisco International Airport terminal; with more than 1.2 million square feet of space, this is the largest base-isolated building in the world.

FPS system
For another San Francisco building, architects and engineers proposed the use of the Friction Pendulum System (FPS), a method that would enable the historic 60,000-ton U.S. Court of Appeals building to ride out an earthquake by gently swaying back and forth like a pendulum.

FPS can substantially improve the earthquake resistance of new and existing buildings, without an increase in costs. Because of the inherent simplicity and versatility of the FPS concept, this new isolation system could become a major tool for the seismic-resistant design of constructed facilities.

Toward forecasts
Researchers funded through NSF's Civil and Mechanical Systems programs and through the GEO Directorate— supported Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) are working to predict what will happen when an earthquake does occur and are trying to forecast potential damage based on the effects of past quakes.

City planners in Southern California look to SCEC, which also helps to develop hazard maps that tell where and how frequently earthquakes are likely to occur and what will be the level of ground shaking.

Research programs
Additionally, NSF funds an Earthquake Engineering Research Center at three Universities: University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, the University of California-Berkeley and the State University of New York-Buffalo. These centersspacedevelop and execute integrated research programs that will help the nation to be ready when the next big quake comes.

In the future, NSF will fund the development of a vast new virtual center—the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation—which will link experimenters and analysts worldwide in an Internet-based system created to share experiments, results, observations and models.

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