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Japan Earthquake/Tsunami Reconnaissance Team 3 -- May 2011

COPRI Team of 'All Stars' to Probe Ports

Marc PercherThe third of as many as seven ASCE reconnaissance teams is in Japan studying the impact on infrastructure caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Following teams sponsored by the Structural Engineering Institute and the Geo-Institute, the third team is sponsored by the Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute, and as such will be focused on damage to port structures. It is being led by Marc Percher, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior engineer with Halcrow Group in Oakland, Calif. He is a structural analyst and designer specializing in marine oil terminals and refinery structures. Percher and/or his teammates will be discussing their findings and experiences in regular posts.  

Read each day's entries:
Introduction  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6

Introduction to the COPRI Ports Team

If you've been reading the various ASCE investigation teams blogs (and we both know you have, you Civil Engineering junkie), then you’re well aware that the Japanese earthquake of March 11 was the largest recorded earthquake to strike Japan and a devastating tragedy for the Japanese people. Watching the news, you see highlights of the events, water rushing over seawalls, flaming debris swept through houses, and human suffering on a scale that is hard to grasp.

It is easy to be fascinated with this imagery, and hard to understand the lasting effect it will have on the Japanese people. To be honest, it’s not something that can be understood by being in the country for a quick week’s reconnaissance, such as the one we are starting. For those who experienced the events, it will define their remaining days and take decades to recover to a state of normalcy which will never be the same as what they had. For us, we can only hope to grasp some concept of what those survivors have experienced, learn from the successes and failures that they saw, and do our best to bring back an understanding of these events in order to deter them from happening in the US.

Last year I had the opportunity to go to Chile on my first post-earthquake inspection for ASCE and the Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute (COPRI). [Read Percher's reports from that trip.] Overall, it was a wild ride, days full of running around talking to port engineers and managers, trying to make sense of what you’re seeing, and fighting jet lag all the way. Coming back was the first time I’ve ever slept eight hours straight on a flight, and I’m sure Japan will be no different. This time, however, the folks at COPRI asked me to lead the team, which is an honor (and quite a bit of responsibility). The good news is this gave me the opportunity to put together a team of "all stars." Luckily for me, they were available.

Alex Augustin and Martin Eskijian are California State Lands Commission engineers, regulating marine oil terminals on a daily basis. Alex was a part of the Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering team in Haiti, providing valuable knowledge with the perspective of those in charge of watching over the shoulders of consultants like me.  Martin joined me in Chile and acted as our elder statesman and all-around expert. Martin has been integral in the development of both the California marine oil terminal code (MOTEMS) as well as adaptation of these methods for international design standards (working with some of the same Japanese researchers who will be Joining our team).  We’re hoping to see some structures developed to those international standards and learn whether our latest methods work well.

Bill Bruin works alongside me at Halcrow, designing new and retrofitting existing marine structures. Bill also traveled to Haiti on the same team as Alex, and offers an abundance of experience and knowledge. As we have a ton of ground to cover, we’ll be splitting the team in half several times and I’ve asked Bill to blog about his experiences when we’re both not in the same place.

Bill Rudolph, from ENGEO, brings to the team decades of geotechnical experience. Surprisingly, this is his first international reconnaissance experience, but only because he built two companies from scratch and has only now entered the pseudo-retirement of being ONLY a practicing engineer.

Yoshi Oritatsu joins the team from Liftech Consultants and is playing two roles, acting as the crane expert for the team as well as being our fluent Japanese speaker. Yoshi has done an amazing job of helping us coordinate logistics.  We’ll all be fighting to have him with us when the team splits. Luckily for me, I just happened to put myself on each team which involves visiting cranes (merely coincidental).

Joining us from the Japanese Port and Airport Research Institute (PARI) are researchers Dr. Sugano, Dr. Arikawa, Dr. Nakazawa, and Dr. Ohya. We have been incredibly fortunate to have their involvement and they’ve gone above and beyond to arrange site visits and other logistics. PARI has also invited the COPRI teams to join in a seminar where they will be presenting their research to date. While the ASCE COPRI team will do our best to aid the Japanese understanding of these events, it is clear that PARI and other Japanese organizations are briskly documenting the damages and will require many years of effort to come to a full understanding of what has happened. 

While we may not be able to understand everything in our short review, we can learn from those who have gone before us and add to the field of knowledge available to those following us, as is the path of progress for the civil engineering profession. Our efforts are a small part in an overall picture which will affect practice not only in Japan, but the rest of the world. So please follow along and learn with the team. We may not come away with all the answers, but I can promise a fascinating journey.


Introduction  |  Day 1  |  Day 2  |  Day 3  |  Day 4  |  Day 5  |  Day 6

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