UNAM/UT Austin engineers receive ConTex collaborative research grant to analyze structures affected by Mexico City earthquakes
On the morning of September 19, 1985, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City resulting in thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage.
UNAM professor and researcher, Sergio Alcocer, remembers that morning – he had dropped his sister off at school and was taking a final exam in planning as an undergrad student. He recalls the shaking, but did not realize at first the magnitude of what had happened. Halfway across the world, in Spain, Juan Murcia-Delso, UT Austin Assistant Professor, was only a child in grade school.
There was no way the two could know that 32 years later, on the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake, another would strike and their collaborative work to make Mexico City more prepared for such a disaster would begin.
Dr. Sergio Alcocer and Dr. Juan Murcia-Delso are the recipients of a ConTex Collaborative Research Grant that will help them evaluate how structures in Mexico City that were retrofitted after the earthquake in 1985 fared in 2017, and how those rehabilitation efforts can improve.
The 2017 earthquake represented the first severe test for structures that had been repaired and retrofitted after the 1985 earthquake.
Alcocer and Murcia-Delso, along with Dr. David Murià-Vila, also from UNAM, will take their combined expertise in concrete structures, earthquake engineering, computational simulation, structure rehabilitation, and structural health monitoring to help reduce vulnerabilities in buildings and enhance disaster resiliency in Mexico City.
“I think the reaction of society, to organize – especially with social media – was very impressive in Mexico City after the 2017 earthquake,” Murcia said. “As an engineer, you feel you have to contribute to support that kind of community response. As a researcher, there is a lot to be learned from things that didn’t work and, in this case, to learn of things that worked. That’s one of the motivations of this project – to look at buildings that were upgraded after the earthquake in ’85 to see if those upgrades worked. And, in many cases, they did work.”
Though Alcocer and Murcia knew each other prior to last year’s earthquake, this event brought them together to assess how Mexico City’s structures fared after the 7.1 earthquake.
“In 1985, studying hydraulics was close to my heart, but because of the tragedy of the earthquake I became more interested in structural engineering,” Alcocer said. “When the earthquake hit in 2017, I was part of a team that helped aid people, but also helped the government in identifying buildings that were safe. That led me to learning of the importance of the behavior of these structures.”
As part of their research, the team will take an inventory of pre-1985 retrofitted and un-retrofitted concrete buildings to build a database that will help monitor resilience plans, conduct a detailed assessment of retrofitted concrete building’s performances, and document current interventions in concrete buildings in both Mexico and the U.S.
Though certain characteristics of structures are unique to Mexico City, particularly the soil on which they are built, the results of the research should benefit communities beyond Mexico, including those with lower seismic hazards like Texas. By investigating the performance of existing rehabilitation methods, along with conditions of the environment and the earthquakes themselves, data will help characterize challenges and opportunities for future seismic and non-seismic events.
“We are very grateful for the ConTex grant because it is very timely and it enhances our commitment as civil engineers to provide a social service that will eventually lead to a much safer and more sustainable society,” Alcocer said.