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Turning engineering knowledge into policy action

CEE 298 Winter Seminar Series
Laura Samant
Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 4:30 pm
Shriram 104
Left: Damage to a San Francisco soft-story building in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; 
Right: A soft-story retrofit underway in San Francisco in the present day.
(Photo credits: San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News)
Engineers are acutely aware of the risks that natural hazard pose to our communities. We know that older structures can be highly vulnerable and even unsafe. We observe new development clustering in locations of high hazard.  We understand that even our newest structures have a probabilistic chance of destruction.  We have documented damaged communities struggling to rebound and fundamentally changing in the aftermath of a disaster.  However, this knowledge alone is not enough to cause society to make changes to and sound policy decisions about these risk factors so our communities become safer and more resilient.  Making change requires technical knowledge of risks and options for solutions, but it also requires understanding how people think about risk; how to communicate complex technical information effectively to a variety of non-technical audiences; political constraints and opportunities associated with long-term threats, and structuring public policy so it can be implemented as envisioned.
This presentation will examine a series of case studies in which advocates used engineering information to drive public policy, including the recent soft-story wood frame building retrofit mandate and private school building evaluation mandate in San Francisco.  For each case study, we will explore the following questions:
  • How much did community members and lawmakers know and care about these issues beforehand?
  • What information or actions made lawmakers act?
  • How was engineering information used (or not) to guide good public policy?  
  • What role did community members and other stakeholders play?
  • What compromises were needed along the way?
  • What advocacy efforts failed, and why?
  • Have the policies and programs worked to make the community more earthquake resilient?
  • Can we repeat our successes, and how?
Laura Samant is an independent, San Francisco-based consultant who analyzes earthquake risk and risk reduction strategies, and helps communities shape that information into well-supported and effective programs that make them safer and more resilient.  Recent clients and project partners have included the City of San Francisco, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), and Applied Technology Council (ATC). She holds a B.S. in civil engineering and an M.S. in structural engineering from Stanford University. Laura currently serves as chair of the Public Policy and Advocacy Committee for the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) and as a Member of the Board of Trustees of GeoHazards International.