CUREE: The Organization
CUREE is a non-profit organization devoted to the advancement of earthquake engineering research, education and implementation.

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Organization : Overview
A Short History of CUREE

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With the organization in place, the next step was to obtain funding. It came from afar, from Japan, from the Kajima Corporation. Through the discussions of some key CUREe professors, including Joseph Penzien, Al Ang, and Bill Iwan (Penzien 2004, p. 76), developed a multi-year collaborative CUREe-Kajima Joint Research Program with the key person at Kajima, Takuji Kobori. Kobori had been a professor at Kyoto University and recognized the value of academic research to the development of Kajima’s capabilities. In one two- or three-year phase after another, the joint program lasted until 2010. The range of topics was very broad, from ground motion studies to particular structural investigations to seismic risk analyses.

Another collaboration with Japan came with the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. CUREe obtained funding from the Building Contractors Society of Japan to systematically compile geologic and strong motion data.

Following the Northridge Earthquake, CUREe obtained funding from all four NEHRP agencies – NSF, U.S.Geological Survey, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Federal Emergency Management Agency – to bring together researchers and potential users of the research soon after NEHRP research grants had been issued to study the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Then, when enough time had passed for enough research to be conducted, the second phase collected papers together in a multi-volume set that remains the most comprehensive single source of information on that earthquake (CUREe 1998). This multi-year effort was truly national in scope, and no distinction was made on the basis of the region of origin of the research. CUREe still had its original California set of members.

Prior to the January 17, 1994 earthquake, CUREe decided it needed a small staff to run the organization, and after a national search, the author was selected as executive director. An office was established at the University of California Richmond Field Station in the second floor of the shake table building through the auspices of Professor Stephen Mahin, who was then president of CUREe. The office has remained there to date. Budgeting, payment approval, NSF grant reporting, audits, and other financial affairs were put on a systematic basis, and proposal initiatives were developed. Soon, a large grant ($5.2 million) from FEMA was obtained for an applied research project concerning woodframe buildings, whose performance in the Northridge Earthquake was not as reliable as many engineers had assumed. About the same time, CUREe joined forces with the Structural Engineers Association of California and the Applied Technology Council to form the SAC Joint Venture and devote academic and practicing engineer capabilities toward the problem of solving the welded moment-resisting frame problems that surfaced in that earthquake. In both cases, CUREe developed the ability to manage over 60 subcontracts and deal uniformly with universities inside and outside the state, another indication the organization was moving toward its eventual national, rather than California, composition.

Meanwhile, the ten-year term of NSF funding to NCEER that began in 1986 was nearing an end, and NSF decided to hold another contest, but this time it left open the possibility of awarding more than one center. The CUREe member universities decided that a unified proposal should be developed in response, and that process started in January of 1986 when Caltech professor Paul Jennings was appointed head of a committee that had one representative from each of CUREe’s eight member universities. To obtain the required matching funds from the state, a California Seismic Safety Commission bill had already been drafted, and CUREe was inserted in the bill’s language to be the entity receiving the funding. After several rounds of meetings of the Jennings committee, a consensus was reached that U.C. Berkeley should be the lead university, and CUREe then had the bill rewritten to make that change. By the end of the summer, the bill had passed, and the proposal that was later to be approved by NSF was funded, creating the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Center. NCEER morphed into MCEER, the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, still headquartered at Buffalo. A new center, MidAmerica Earthquake Center, MAE, headquartered at the University of Illinois was the third center funded by NSF.

CUREe once again had adjusted to the direction taken by NSF, and it was to again shortly after when NSF decided to devote a large portion of its earthquake engineering budget to what became the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. Such a network was to be truly national, whereas the three centers were regionally focused. CUREe’s experience with the Woodframe and SAC Steel projects gave it confidence that the landscape of academia in the earthquake engineering field had grown to be truly national in capabilities, and it decided to open its membership to universities outside the state. In 2000, the name changed to Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering and the acronym to CUREE. Almost immediately, the membership quadrupled. In a dozen years, the California-centric membership and outlook of CUREE had changed markedly.

In the competition to establish NEES, NSF called for a consortium to set up its administrative hub, in parallel with the competition to decide which universities would receive large equipment grants for new or enhanced laboratories. CUREE won that competition and by 2004 had put in place a new NEES Consortium non-profit organization (Reitherman 2004). In that instance, it proved the worth of having a truly national association of universities to bring them together to work toward a common goal.

Robert Reitherman
Executive Director


California Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering (1998). Proceedings of the NEHRP conference and workshop on research on the Northridge, California Earthquake of January 17, 1994. California Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, Richmond, CA, four volumes.

Gaus, Michael (1969). “Earthquake engineering support by the National Science Foundation,” Report on the NSF-UCEER conference on earthquake engineering research, Universities Council for Earthquake Engineering Research, Pasadena, CA.

Government Accounting Office (1987). Problems found in decision process for awarding earthquake center, Washington, DC.

National Science Foundation (2011). National Science Foundation FY 2012 budget request to congress, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA.

Penzien, Joseph (2004). Connections: EERI Oral History Series, Joseph Penzien, Stanley Scott and Robert Reitherman, interviewers, Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Oakland, CA.

Reitherman, Robert (2004). “A short history of NEES,”

Reitherman, Robert (2012). Earthquakes and engineers: An international history. ASCE Press, Reston, VA.

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Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering
last updated 03.26.15