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Breña and Peterman Receive $397,767 Grant to Develop Techniques to Improve Performance of Existing Reinforced Concrete Buildings During Earthquakes

Sergio Breña (left) and Kara Peterman (right)

Breña and Peterman

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have awarded Professor Sergio Breña, the associate department head in the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department, and CEE Assistant Professor Kara Peterman a $397,767 grant to do pioneering research on the expected seismic performance of existing vulnerable reinforced concrete buildings. See coverage by National Institute of Standards and Technology.

According to Breña and Peterman, “This research project examines the performance of reinforced concrete buildings during earthquakes and the efficacy of repair and selective column retrofit approaches to increase community resilience [against such natural disasters].”

In the process, principal investigator (PI) Breña and co-PI Peterman aim to create the tools necessary to facilitate reliable predictions and informed decision-making for selective column retrofitting using “jackets” composed of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer, a material often used to patch up damaged or aging concrete buildings.

As Breña explains the motivation for this particular research, “Recent earthquakes have highlighted that, in addition to the potential for loss of life after a large event, economic and societal impacts can be tremendous even after moderate earthquakes…Returning to normal community conditions relies heavily on minimizing the timeframe for building re-occupancy and operation.”

Breña and Peterman plan to reduce this timeframe, first, by boosting our understanding of the expected seismic performance of existing vulnerable reinforced concrete buildings to determine the impact of their damage or collapse on the community. Then, secondly, they will study better solutions for repairing structural impairments in such buildings and getting the communities quickly back to normal.

“After more reliable knowledge on existing building performance is obtained,” says Peterman, “we seek to use selective column rehabilitation to minimize the likelihood for damage and to eliminate the potential for collapse of existing [reinforced concrete] buildings.”

As Breña and Peterman observe, though the research will necessarily focus on rehabilitation of buildings containing columns with vulnerable parts, the general concepts of the framework are universal and can be applied to other types of rehabilitation techniques.

“By focusing the research [on] retrofitting older reinforced concrete columns containing vulnerable details, we will have a large impact in communities that are regularly subjected to earthquakes,” says Breña.

Past earthquakes have shown that columns in older buildings are particularly vulnerable to damage and may trigger partial or total collapse of buildings.

As Peterman concludes, “The framework developed in this research will allow evaluation of existing structures to be more reliable and allow decisions to be made on rehabilitation of damaged buildings.”

The project being carried out by Breña and Peterman is part of a much larger program partnered by the NIST and NSF, which have awarded more than $7.6 million in grants to fund research that will improve the ability of buildings, infrastructure, and communities to hold strong against natural hazards. The agencies are funding 20 projects to be conducted across 24 institutions through the Disaster Resilience Research Grant (DRRG) program, which they manage together. (July 2022)