UW is launching a new disaster response effort with the mission of investigating damage to buildings and roads after earthquakes, hurricanes, and other catastrophes.

“In a region like the Pacific Northwest, it could have a significant impact. It will allow us to learn a lot more about the earthquake experiences from other regions,” said Jeff Berman, an associate professor in the UW Dept. of Civil and Engineering, who is co-director of the new Post-Disaster Rapid Response Research Facility.

The center will assess natural disasters from an engineering perspective. Teams will deploy immediately after an event, armed with sophisticated imaging and surveying tools, such as drones.

“We need to be ready to deploy within a few days,” Berman said.

The information the team gathers will be used to help improve building codes, design better emergency response plans, and identify areas where it’s unsafe to construct buildings.

The facility will use a $4 million National Science Foundation grant to purchase equipment and hire staff, and should be ready to deploy in two years.

It's a unique effort because historically this kind of field research was done in the weeks and months following cleanup and recovery efforts. Debris gets moved. Buildings are knocked down. Evidence is destroyed.

“Often with rescue and response efforts, this very valuable data disappears really quickly,” said center director Joe Wartman.