GEOSTRATA, 2016, September/October


Thomas D. O’Rourke, PhD, Dist.M.ASCE, NAE, was selected as the GeoLegend for the September/October 2016 issue of GEOSTRATA. He was interviewed by Lehigh University PhD and master’s students Sean Xiao, Thomas Lin, and Hanna Moussa Jabbour. However, due to space constraints in the printed magazine, only a condensed version of the interview could be printed. We are pleased to offer the full text of the interview here.

With more than 40 years as a geotechnical engineer, Professor O’Rourke’s career has been focused on geotechnical and earthquake engineering for large, geographically distributed systems, such as water supplies, energy delivery networks, and transportation facilities. He has authored or co-authored more than 370 publications on geotechnical engineering, underground construction technology, geographically distributed systems, earthquake engineering, impact of extreme events on civil infrastructure, and infrastructure rehabilitation. Since 1995, he has delivered 155 invited lectures, keynotes, and conference presentations worldwide.

A geotechnical and/or lifeline expert in many post-earthquake reconnaissance missions worldwide, O’Rourke offers his views on the “new normal” for natural disasters, the sustainability of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, lessons learned from various earthquakes, and more.

For example, he discusses the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. When firemen turned on the hydrants after the earthquake, there was no water because soil liquefaction had caused water supply pipelines to break up. Approximately 490 city blocks burned to the ground, an additional 32 blocks were severely damaged, and 28,000 buildings destroyed, making this event the greatest single fire loss in U.S. history. Afterward, a water distribution network exclusively for fire protection, known as the Auxiliary Water Supply System (AWSS), was constructed in San Francisco. In the 1980s, a Portable Water Supply System (PWSS) was developed, consisting of special vehicles, called hose tenders, carrying about 1.5 km of 125-mm-diameter hoses and above-ground hydrants. The fire that erupted in the Marina district of San Francisco after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was suppressed by the PWSS. O’Rourke credits the water supply modeling performed at Cornell that correctly predicted liquefaction and loss of water in the existing underground pipelines. This, he says, was a key factor in developing the successful alternate fire protection measures in San Francisco.

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