Prof. Sharon L. Wood, Ph.D.
2010 EERI Distinguished Lecture Award
Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, University of Texas at Austin

The Potential of Ubiquitous Sensing


During the past decade, our expectations regarding mobile computing and connectivity have increased exponentially. With smart phones, we can remain in constant contact with the internet, receive immediate notification of each email message, and know our exact location at any time. If the bandwidth issues could be resolved, one could easily envision post-earthquake rescue service similar to those currently used to deploy emergency responders after automobile crashes, as most current hardware already includes GPS chips and MEMS accelerometers. Similarly, structural engineers could define thresholds of response before an earthquake and sensor systems deployed within buildings and bridges could automatically trigger yellow or red flags based on the measured response.
Smart meters for electric power consumption, and the associated software, provide a model for how we can improve our existing infrastructure. The Google website includes testimonials from beta testers who have dramatically reduced their power bills by understanding how each of their electrical appliances contributes to the total consumption. Their byline “You can measure it… You can improve it…” also applies to structural performance. Ignoring for the moment that damaging earthquakes are rare events, side-by-side comparisons of various schemes for rehabilitation and strengthening of existing structures could lead to the development of field-tested recommendations for individual structural systems of specific ages.
However, in order to achieve the vision of 2056 developed for the 2010 EERI Annual Meeting, the structural engineering community must learn more about the actual performance of complete systems, including the performance of nonstructural elements. This can only be achieved by developing comprehensive models and conducting verification studies of the few buildings with sensor networks. The information available from the Center for Engineering Strong Motion Data website ( is an invaluable tool for testing and improving our models and understanding system response. Our challenge is to use these data sets to the maximum extent possible to improve the infrastructure and reduce the vulnerability to earthquake damage.

Sharon L. Wood is the Robert L. Parker, Sr. Centennial Professor and Chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Prof. Wood’s research interests are related to improving the performance of reinforced concrete structures during earthquakes, improving the durability of structural concrete bridges under service loads, and developing sensor systems to monitor structural performance. She is a member of the Structural Concrete Building Code Committee within the American Concrete Institute and the Advisory Committee on Earthquake Hazards Reduction for the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.


Thursday, March 18th, 2010


10:00 AM EDT

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Seminar sponsored by MCEER Networking and Education Programs, MCEER SLC and hosted by the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering and the EERI Student Chapter at UB.


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