Documenting and learning from observations from "extreme events" are invaluable to advancing the state-of-art in multi-hazards engineering. Recorded observations serve as benchmarks to our understanding of the effects of these events, their underlying causative mechanisms, and for validation of design procedures. Capturing the key lessons learned from extreme events constitutes an important task for advancing research in geotechnical engineering, because many of the profession's design procedures are based on empirical methods that require re-evaluation as important case histories emerge. The NSF-sponsored Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association organizes and supports reconnaissance efforts by geotechnical researchers and develops techniques to capture perishable data to learn from these events. The primary objectives of GEER include documenting geotechnical effects of important extreme events to advance research, employing innovative technologies for post-event reconnaissance, and advancing the capabilities of individuals performing research based on field observations. Much of the data generated by extreme events is perishable and therefore must be collected soon after the event. The challenge is to develop the most effective means for documenting the results of a full-scale experiment that has occurred without much warning, if any. Since 2006, GEER has successfully documented the geotechnical effects of 19 extreme events, including Hurricane Gustav in 2008, the 2011 Lower Mississippi River Floods, and the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, New Zealand, and Japan. Many GEER reconnaissance efforts have led to funded research projects, demonstrating that GEER reconnaissance efforts are identifying important research issues that can lead to advancements in science and engineering. Many of the innovative techniques employed in recent reconnaissance efforts, such as the utilization of GoogleEarthTM, GPS devices, remote sensing, and LIDAR, were initiated by GEER members. GEER is well positioned to make similar further advancements with respect to the use of new technology and communication approaches in reconnaissance.
This award provides funds for continuation of GEER activities to enable quick, responsive geotechnical investigations of natural and human-made disasters. It is expected that two to four investigations of moderate-sized events would be conducted each year. If a large event occurs, GEER would recommend funding of a RAPID to an identified GEER team to respond effectively to this larger event. Unfortunately, extreme events will happen. It would be even more unfortunate if the engineering profession did not capture the perishable data that enables it to understand which design procedures result in good seismic performance and which procedures still need improvement. GEER with its willing geo-professional participants will help turn disasters into knowledge.