March 1, 1988 marks the date of incorporation of the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, CUREE, as a non-profit public benefit organization, although the name at that point was California Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering. The name change relates to one of the steps in the evolution of the organization that occurred a dozen years later, one of a few significant phases covered here.
But first, a necessary preamble back to the years prior to 1988.
In the 1960s, NSF annually funded earthquake engineering research via grants to universities at about the $1 million level, for example $1,045,600 in 1967 (Gaus 1969, p. 11), or $7.2 million in 2012 dollars. The current figure is approximately $50 million, of which $12 million is earmarked for research that must use the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, and a little less than twice that, $20 to 23 million in recent years, for the maintenance and operation of the NEES laboratories at 14 universities and an extensive information technology system (National Science Foundation 2011, Facilities appendix, pp. 47-48).
As momentum from the 1964 Alaska and especially the 1971 San Fernando Earthquakes grew, the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act was passed in October of 1977. NSF began to annually receive, in round numbers, $20 million a year for its earthquake engineering and social science disaster grants. Borrowing a term from the geologists, who use saltation to refer to the way particles such as sand rolling along in the wind can be suddenly bumped into the air and leap forward, this was a major saltation in the funding for earthquake engineering research in the United States.
In 1996, after a national contest, NSF awarded $5 million annually for a decade for a national center for earthquake engineering research, that being its exact title, headquartered at the University at Buffalo in the State University of New York system. The State of New York provided matching funds. The collaborating universities in NCEER were centered in the Northeast. In the twenty years after NEHRP was established, a number of universities around the nation had developed earthquake engineering programs, whereas in the 1960s, one could point to a much smaller list, mainly California universities and programs at the University of Illinois, University of Michigan, MIT (Reitherman 2012, p. 418).
With the passage of time, even those in the field at the time may have forgotten how acrimoniously the NSF decision was received in California, whose entry in the contest, proposing a headquarters at the University of California at Berkeley with other California universities as collaborating institutions, was thought by many to be the front runner in the contest. It is enough of a data point measuring the controversty at the time in this brief historical review to mention that both California Senators officially protested the decision and a Government Accounting Office report had to be done to evaluate whether the decision was appropriate (Government Accounting Office 1987). The GAO found “no evidence that the panel showed favoritism for one proposal over the other” but concluded NSF staff should have provided more precise criteria regarding receipt of matching funds and done a better job of presenting information to the panel.
With NCEER a fact of life to which the California universities had to adjust, their efforts turned to forming some type of multi-university organization that could compete for funds and maintain prominence in the field. At that time, the University of California at Berkeley had been growing since its establishment in January of 1968, with its shake table in operation by 1972, but there was nothing like NCEER that was set up specifically to involve multiple universities.
Thus in 1987, several key individuals among the California universities, including Bruce Bolt, Wilfred (Bill) Iwan), and others, took the initiative to set up California Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, incorporated as a non-profit public benefit organization on March 1, 1988, and subsequently Internal Revenue Service 401 (c) status was obtained. At that time, the acronym was spelled CUREe. The eight founding university members were California Institute of Technology, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, and the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
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