October President's Message

It was late in the afternoon on Thursday, September 8.  I was actually working out the fine details for our upcoming SEAONC Board meeting agenda when I got the call:  ‘Dick, it’s Heidi, EERI.  The exciting news is you have been selected to be a part of a reconnaissance team for the Amatrice Earthquake in Italy.  The tricky part is you leave in about 36 hours.’

Wow!  At first I was reluctant.  “But what about or meeting next Tuesday with the new format and that presentation I’ve so been looking forward to by Rose and Natalie?”  But, in a phone conversation with our past President Kate Stillwell, who wonderfully agreed to preside over the Board meeting and presentation, I was ordered to go!  So I did, and what an honor and privilege it was to participate!

Our EERI team consisted of; Silvia Mazzoni (UC Berkeley and team leader), Erica Fischer (Degenkolb Engineers, Seattle), Paolo Calvi (University of Washington) and myself.  We landed in Rome on Sunday morning, met with a group of geologists over lunch and set out on the highway east into the mountains.  Our first stop was L’Aquila where a devastating earthquake struck in 2009.  Now seven years later, the skyline is lined with tower cranes still rebuilding.  Many historical buildings are being restored and sadly some still sit still shored up waiting for their eventual fate.

In the days that followed, we visited Amatrice, where most of the historic center was destroyed and numerous neighboring hill towns spread over four regions of Italy that were also heavily damaged by the August 24 event.  Most of what we observed was what we all might expect from ancient rubble stone walls, weak diaphragms and little connectivity.  There were also some surprises as well.  Nearly every medieval tower and campanile we saw were still standing.  Oh, and how about a brand new replacement school in only three weeks?

In the weeks to come, we will be sorting our data and photos and preparing our report.  For those of you attending the Maui Convention this October, Silvia and I will be making a special presentation that provide more detail on our observations.  Hopefully many of you will be coming to Maui and can make that, even if it is Saturday morning after the CSI party.

In closing, I will just say this.  As I walked over the piles of rubble stone, crushed mortar, tiles, teddy bears, sneakers, broken dinner plates, twisted rebar and the crushed remains of what was once a happy living Italian community, it really drove home the importance of what we structural engineers do every day.  I’ll never forget this experience and I recommend a similar one for all of you.

Hope to see many of you at our convention in Maui!