Contributing Authors: Dr. Farhang Ostadan

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Code of Ethics is the model for professional conduct for ASCE members. Its first canon states: “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.” By extension, planning for natural disasters remains a challenge for every engineering design. During natural disasters the safety of the public is the priority. Engineers must build facilities that ensure people’s safety and allow for secure shut down, if necessary. Earthquakes are one of the most challenging hazards to design for, a perpetual task for engineers. 

Billions of people around the world live with the threat of earthquakes daily. According to a 2017 study conducted by the European Union, the total world population living in seismic areas has increased by 93 percent to 2.7 billion people in the past 40 years.  

Robust industry codes and standards, and the implementation of these standards during the design and construction phases help minimize damage during an earthquake. At a minimum, a good design prevents the collapse of a structure and minimizes the loss of life. Bechtel specializes in designs that will not only withstand earthquakes, but also maintain operations during and after a natural disaster occurs. This high standard requires the seismic design of not just the building, but all safety-related equipment and components within the structure. 

The Bechtel Earthquake Engineering Center

Bechtel has been the industry leader in designing and building earthquake-resistant structures for more than 70 years and maintains an Earthquake Engineering Center. The Center is staffed by experts in seismology, soil, and structural dynamics and uses state-of-the-art hardware and software to manage the seismic design aspects of Bechtel projects.  

Bechtel Fellow Dr. Farhang Ostadan manages the Center. With more than 30 years of experience in geotechnical earthquake engineering and foundation design, Farhang is the co-author of a breakthrough computer code known as System for Analysis of Soil-Structure Interaction, or SASSI. Developed in 1981 and frequently updated by the Earthquake Engineering team to incorporate latest development, SASSI remains the industry standard for evaluating the effect of seismic activity on structures and the equipment within them, and for assessing the adequacy of facility design. 

Bechtel has been an innovator and pioneer in earthquake design. In 1975, Bechtel's design approach received its first “live-fire” test during a 5.2 magnitude earthquake in northern California. Following the earthquake, the recorded motion and resilience of the nearby Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant was shown to closely resemble the predictions generated by engineers using a predecessor of the SASSI computer program.  

Global Innovators in Seismic Design 

With predictive capabilities powered by SASSI and Bechtel-led research developments, engineers are better able to design structures that can continue operations during natural disasters. In recent years, Bechtel has continued to innovate in the field of earthquake design, applying new approaches within SASSI to improve efficiency and handle large, detailed computer models of projects. As you can see in the map below, Bechtel has completed projects all over the world with unique seismic challenges during design and construction. 

The 2018 National Seismic Hazard Model (NSHM) report concludes that, in the U.S. alone, about one in nine people (~34 million) are expected to experience a strong seismic event at least once in their lifetimes. When these incidents occur, critical infrastructure depends on the most modern design approaches to ensure continued operations. Bechtel is proud to be an industry leader in this field and will continue to work with our customers and the communities where they live to make sure that our projects are safe, efficient, and designed to stay in operation even after natural disasters strike.