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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Economic Benefits of a Disaster Resistant University: Earthquake Loss Estimation for UC Berkeley

  • Author(s): Comerio, Mary C.
  • et al.

Disasters affect universities across the country. In the past decade, Stanford University and California State University, Northridge, were severely damaged by earthquakes; the University of Miami, Tulane University and East Carolina University were closed by hurricanes; the University of North Dakota, Colorado State University, Syracuse University, and many others have faced damage and business interruption from flooding. Not only are universities unique organizations that serve their communities and states, but the federal government also has a significant economic and social investment in them. Annually, federal agencies fund about $15 billion in university research. Much of the research is multi-year, and the value of ongoing research is obviously higher. Much American progress is fueled by academic research results.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), together with the University of California, Berkeley, has funded the research and development component of the Disaster Resistant Universities Initiative as the pilot for a national program. The Disaster Resistant Universities Initiative is intended to motivate and enable the nation’s universities to manage their vulnerability to local hazards and reduce their losses in foreseeable disasters. Beyond the primary need to protect students, staff, and faculty, the Disaster Resistant Universities Initiative is designed to help universities safeguard their research capacity as well as the human capital associated with the academic environment.

This study of earthquake hazards and the economic consequences of potential losses at the University of California, Berkeley, grows out of a long-term commitment to understanding and addressing seismic safety issues on the part of the campus and the systemwide administration.

This research advances our understanding of potential earthquake losses by assembling data on soil conditions, infrastructure, nonstructural building conditions, contents, numbers of occupants, and the location of critical functions. Taken together, the data are used to assess the potential financial loss, and the University’s capacity to recover after a damaging earthquake. The findings of this study, in combination with the ongoing SAFER program, serve as the basis for an effective seismic risk-management program.

Although no other campus in the United States has done more than the University of California, Berkeley, in addressing its natural hazards risks, the university needs to minimize the impact of potential losses through wide-ranging hazard mitigation programs and post-disaster business resumption planning.

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