Keith Porter

My group examines questions of how to estimate future uncertain earthquake-induced repair costs, life-safety impacts, and loss of functionality (“dollars, deaths, and downtime”) in single facilities, groups of buildings, and at the societal level. If you work with me, you will be free to choose any topic within that field that interests you. Most often my students prefer to choose a research topic from my ever-growing menu of research questions, which at the moment is led by the following items. See my research page here for a list of past projects that my students have pursued in the last decade.

  1. How beneficial is earthquake early warning (EEW)? EEW can provide several seconds of advanced warning before strong motion arrives and allow people and systems to take self-protective action. The research will quantify the benefit of some self-protective actions, likely using aspects of social science, engineering, and seismology.
  2. What are the life-safety benefits of seismic strengthening? Earthquakes in the US injure orders of magnitude more people than they kill, but models of human injuries in earthquakes are based mostly on expert opinion and lack validation. The research will combine experimental testing on crash test dummies with knowledge of public health, automotive engineering, and structural engineering to create an empirical performance-based earthquake engineering model of human injuries in earthquakes.
  3. How can one estimate flood risk without hydraulics and hydrology? Among natural disasters, floods cause most losses, far more than earthquakes and wind. Current analytical and empirical flood models rely on expensive data that generally do not exist or are of such poor quality as to be untrustworthy. The research will attempt to simplify the estimation of flood risk using higher-quality loss data from other countries, using hydraulics, hydrology, and loss estimation.
  4. Can one account for sustainability in catastrophe risk models? Traditional catastrophe risk models estimate risk in terms of repair costs, life-safety impacts, and loss of functionality, or dollars, deaths and downtime—the 3 Ds—but not environmental impacts. The research will employ sustainability and performance-based earthquake engineering to show how one can account for environmental impacts in loss estimation.
  5. How can one model lifeline interaction without a system-of-systems analysis? Damage to one lifeline (water supply, power, etc.) can impair or hinder restoration of another. The interaction can be modeled with a system-of-systems approach, but for security reasons analysts usually cannot acquire the necessary system information. The research will use lifeline engineering and loss estimation to explore approximate methods to quantify the restoration delay resulting from lifeline interaction, without detailed system information.
  6. Extending demand-surge modeling beyond US hurricanes. Construction costs rise after major natural disasters, but the only empirical model of the phenomenon, called demand surge, is limited to US hurricanes. The research will develop such models for another peril or another location, using principles of construction contracting, catastrophe risk modeling, and microeconomics.
  7. Safe enough? What performance does the public expect from new buildings? Design provisions in US building codes have generally been developed without consulting the people whose lives and livelihoods are at stake. The research will explore needs, methods, and opportunities to inject public preferences into code development.
  8. What use are disaster planning scenarios? As a general rule, improvements in disaster preparedness usually have to await actual disasters, even when the need is anticipated beforehand. Recent USGS projects show that disaster planning scenarios can break the general rule. The research will use catastrophe risk modeling, lifeline engineering, environmental engineering, and possibly other disciplines to quantify the costs and benefits of planning scenarios and to understand what features of the scenario make the most difference.
  9. How many people will need urban search and rescue in earthquakes? Earthquakes cause buildings to collapse and trap building occupants and passersby and they cause elevators to lose power and trap passengers, but models of these processes are fairly rudimentary. The research will attempt to identify and quantify the parameters that most strongly contribute to a person becoming trapped and need extraction, to inform broader models of catastrophe risk.
  10. What does the life-safety performance objective in the building code cost businesses? Most buildings are designed only to ensure that people can safely exit the building after a major earthquake or windstorm. The research will use structural engineering, lifecycle cost analysis, and business continuity planning to quantify some of the hidden business costs of the life-safety performance objective.