BUFFALO, NY - Buffalo may not seem like an ideal place to research how to create buildings to survive earthquakes, but the research being done here can lead to applications that will keep buildings upright and bridges spanning when mother nature rumbles.
“I think the earthquake center are the best-kept secret in Western New York.” Director of MCEER Andrew Whittaker said.
The Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) was funded by a national science foundation grant and built in 1986. It’s recognized in the industry as a national earthquake research center.
Right here in Buffalo, where earthquakes are rare.
The University at Buffalo was in a race with the University of California Berkeley to establish the center and The Western New York institution won the bid.
“A better proposal was written from the Buffalo group because other institutions were involved but also the State of New York was involved,” distinguished SUNY professor Michael Constantino said.
The state, led by then Governor Mario Cuomo, contributed $25 million to the project according to a 1986 LA Times article.
Since then, the center has been a worldwide leader in researching earthquake engineering. The big question that aims to be answered there is how to isolate seismic activity in a building, bridge or any structure that needs to stay standing during a quake?
“Not only do we intend to save lives but also protect the investment,” said Constantino.
Tests are conducted on a massive shake table that can fit a load of fifty tons. Scaled versions of bridges, transformers and buildings are built on the table and run through the gambit of tests.
On one particular day, a sliding bearing system developed by former UB students in California and spring loaded dampers developed by Taylor Devices in North Tonawanda are being tested.
“This is a scaled down version, weighs about 35 tons," explained Constantino, "this is an isolation system that will provide significant reductions in acceleration response.”
Often times the public doesn’t understand the value in research and how it impacts everyday life. But the engineering breakthroughs developed at the center for earthquake engineering has had a direct impact in saving lives. Even as recent as this summer.
“Following the earthquake in Ecuador, bridges were badly damaged," Whittaker said, "one bridge in the epicenter of the region survived the damage and that was built with sliding bearings that were developed by and large here in Buffalo.”
The companies spun off as a result of this research have been quite profitable
“My estimate after talking with Doug (Taylor) it seems to be a half billion dollars in sales,” said Constantino
Taylor Devices is a leading manufacturer of seismic dampening systems and based in North Tonawanda.
Whether it’s figuring out how build bridges faster and safer or ensuring new buildings don’t tumble when the earth rumbles, Buffalo is leading way in developing new ways to tame an untamable beast.
“If our technology prevents damage in an earthquake, we’ve done our job,” Whittaker said.