Civil engineering professor receives major grant for disaster risk management
Rachel Davidson


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8:19 a.m., Jan. 14, 2010----Rachel Davidson, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware, has received a $796,255 grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop models that support the design of a regional natural disaster risk management system.

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The three-year project will also demonstrate application of the new models in case studies, focusing on earthquake risk in Los Angeles and hurricane risk in North Carolina.

The project will be carried out in collaboration with Linda Nozick and Thomas O'Rourke, professors in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, and Jamie Kruse, professor of economics and director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University.

“Natural disasters are a significant and growing national challenge,” Davidson says. “This project involves developing risk and game theoretic optimization models to support design of a regional natural disaster risk management system that is effective, efficient, sustainable and equitable, as well as appealing to all of the key stakeholders, so that it will be implementable.”

The UD project was one of 27 selected for funding out of 1,300 proposals submitted to the NIST Measurement Science and Engineering Research Grants Program. Totaling more than $34 million, the funds were awarded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“With these grants, we are leveraging our nation's brightest minds in measurement science to address important national needs,” said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher. “These projects will bolster U.S. scientific and technological infrastructure, increasing our nation's ability to innovate, compete and solve scientific and technological problems.”

The research will advance the state of knowledge and practice of measurement science in six identified areas of critical national importance: energy, environment and climate change, information technology and cybersecurity, biosciences and health care, manufacturing, and physical infrastructure.

According to the agency, U.S. innovation and competitiveness in areas such as automobile manufacturing, cybersecurity, climate change studies, cloud computing and renewable energy sources depend on measurement science research.

Davidson's approach to the modeling will be novel in that she plans to explicitly consider the differing objectives, constraints and alternatives of each of the key stakeholders -- for example, building owners, insurers and government -- as well as to recognize the biases people and organizations have in making disaster risk decisions. Her models will also allow decisions and investments to be made over time. Finally, she plans to account for the large uncertainty in disaster losses.

“Successful completion of this project will provide tools to help address the increasingly severe problem of natural disaster risk, a topic of major national concern,” says Sue McNeil, professor and director of the Disaster Research Center (DRC) at UD.

In addition to her appointment in civil engineering, Davidson is a core faculty member of the DRC. She serves on the executive committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Technical Council of Lifeline Earthquake Engineering (TCLEE); on the SEI-ASCE Technical Council on Life-Cycle Performance, Safety, Reliability, and Risk of Structural Systems; and on the executive committee of the board of directors of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW).

She is also president-elect of the Society for Risk Analysis.

Davidson earned her doctorate at Stanford University and joined the UD faculty in 2007.

Article by Diane Kukich