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ATLANTA—A new, National Science Foundation-sponsored project, led by the Georgia Institute of Technology, aims to develop strategies to help safeguard ports from earthquake damage. "Ports are a critical civil infrastructure system," said Glenn J. Rix, professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and project director. "If a large portion of a major U.S. port such as Oakland or Los Angeles were out of service for a year because of an earthquake, there would be significant economic consequences." Ports are particularly vulnerable to damage during earthquakes because wharves are often built on unstable ground that is prone to liquefaction, a process that causes soil to lose its strength as a result of ground shaking. A key part of the project is to evaluate methods of preventing damage to wharves and cranes using large-scale tests.

The team will perform these tests at four labs that are part of the George E. Brown, Jr.

Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. The team also will investigate applying the same approach to managing risks from other natural hazards, including hurricanes.

"Modern ports are large, complex systems," said Rix. "Our project team includes researchers and practitioners with expertise in civil engineering, logistics, risk analysis, and social science to address seismic risk issues in every aspect of the system. We learned an important lesson from the experience of Gulf Coast ports following Hurricane Katrina. The physical damage was minor compared to the impact of the displaced labor force on port operations, which emphasized the need to examine the entire port system."