CUREE Banner

Projects : NEES Consortium Development Project

A Short History and Overview of NEES

by Robert Reitherman


Plans for enhancement of earthquake engineering experimental facilities in the United States extend back several decades, including the influential Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) study on Experimental Research Needs (EERI, 1984), and the related 1995 updated recommendations (Abrams, et al., 1995). The plans for the development of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), however, which date from the late 1990s, introduced several key new features, chief among them being: the integration of information technology (IT) and civil engineering; shared usage of a distributed collection of laboratory facilities i.e., a collaboratory (NRC, 1993). This new vision was captured by NSF in phrases such as “Network for High-Performance Seismic Simulation,” and “cybersystem” (Bordogna, 1999). The Assistant Director for Engineering of NSF (head of the Engineering Directorate), Eugene Wong, articulated the concept: “We believe that this utilization of advanced IT will enable the earthquake engineering research field to move from a reliance on physical testing to model-based simulation…(D)espite their geographic dispersion, the various components of NEES will be interconnected with a computer network, allowing for remote access, the sharing of information, and collaborative research.” (Wong, 1999)

The full name, George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation, was designated by Congress to honor the late Congressman Brown (1920-1999), who was a strong supporter of federal support of earthquake engineering research, as well as of other science and technology programs.


While NEES is designed to be a single, coherent program, the contractual and funding aspects of its two phases are distinct:

  1. The developmental or construction phase, ending September 30, 2004, the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2004; this is the MREFC phase as explained below.

  2. The operational phase beginning October 1, 2004, the beginning of FY 2005, and extending for a decade.


NSF funded the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) phase to develop NEES. An MREFC is the NSF vehicle for developing large, shared-use research facilities. NEES is the first MREFC to be undertaken by the Engineering Directorate. Examples of other NSF MREFC programs include the Large Hadron Collider, the South Pole Station, EarthScope, and the Atacama array of radio telescopes. The MREFC phase of NEES extended for four years through September 30, 2004 (the end of FY2004). In this phase, NSF funded three types of developmental projects (listed below). All were competitively awarded on the basis of review of proposals submitted in response to NSF solicitations.

1. Equipment Site Projects
NSF made awards to 15 universities for the construction of new earthquake engineering laboratory facilities or the significant enhancement of existing ones. Each of these is called an Equipment Site. Collectively, the projects funded under the MREFC have created advanced capabilities supporting several types of experimental work: geotechnical centrifuge research; shake table tests; large-scale structural testing; tsunami wave basin experiments; and field site research. Note that the term “Equipment Site” may refer to just a portion of a particular university’s laboratory or facility if only some of it was developed with NEES MREFC funds. The 15 Equipment Site projects were awarded to the following institutions. (Brigham Young University was the MREFC phase awardee; the lead role for that same Equipment Site is now the University of California at Santa Barbara for the operational phase of NEES).

    • Cornell University
    • Lehigh University
    • Oregon State University
    • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    • University at Buffalo - State University of New York (SUNY)
    • University of California at Berkeley
    • University of California at Davis University of California at Los Angeles
    • University of California at San Diego
    • University of California at Santa Barbara
    • University of Colorado at Boulder
    • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    • University of Minnesota
    • University of Nevada at Reno
    • University of Texas at Austin

2. System Integration Project
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was responsible for the development of the information technology infrastructure needed for NEES (“NEESgrid”), such as the data repositories, telepresence tools (e.g., enabling researchers at remote locations to view or control laboratory experiments), and networking. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had the lead role in this work, and IT researchers at the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute, the University of Michigan’s School of Information, and Argonne National Laboratory were also part of that team.

3. Consortium Development Project
NSF awarded the challenge of setting up the NEES Consortium to CUREE, the Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering. Two critical milestones for the Consortium Development Project required by NSF were to “organize and run activities to engage the earthquake engineering community to gain community-generated input and broad consensus for the organizational structure and governance of a single community-based and community-led NEES Consortium,” and the submittal of a proposal “by the NEES Consortium for ten-year operation of the NEES collaboratory.” In January, 2003, NEES Consortium, Inc. was incorporated as a non-profit organization and adopted its Bylaws and Standing Committee Policies (NEES Consortium, 2003); it ran its first elections and held its first annual meeting in May of that year. The other milestone was met by the submittal in October, 2003, of the proposal for ten-year operations of the Consortium. (NEES Consortium, 2004)


There are four primary components to the operation of the NEES Collaboratory:

1. NEES Collaboratory Research
The entire NEES initiative is based on the concept of a collaboratory, where advanced IT capabilities are exploited to make a distributed set of research facilities available for collaborative research on a shared-use basis. An example of shared use is that an investigator with an NSF NEES research grant need not be a faculty member at the institution operating an Equipment Site to have research access to that facility.

NEES research is to be funded by NSF through its competitive process of peer-reviewed research proposals. The first NEES Research solicitation issued by NSF had a proposal deadline of January, 2004, for projects to start FY 2005 (October 1, 2004). Subsequent solicitations are planned to be issued annually.

Research is not funded by or conducted by the Consortium. The separation of the facilitation role of the Consortium from a direct research role was specifically made part of its Bylaws. The NEES Consortium budget, which thus does not include research funding; consists of the following three cost components, listed from largest to smallest:

    • Subawards to the Equipment Sites for their operation and maintenance expenses (in proportion to the shared usage of those facilities)
    • Operation of the IT infrastructure;
    • Organizational costs (e.g., staffing, headquarters office).

2. Operation and Maintenance of Equipment Sites
When a research project funded by an NSF research grant “arrives at the doorstep” of an Equipment Site, the grant will include a budget for research costs such as the construction of test specimens. However, other significant costs must already have been incurred or are necessary ongoing expenses for that Equipment Site to undertake the experimental work (e.g., maintenance of computer, electrical, and hydraulic systems; repair or replacement of equipment; recurring staff costs such as those for administering IT systems). Those recurring expenses of the Equipment Sites are categorized as Operation and Maintenance (O&M) costs and are included by subaward funding to a Site from the Consortium, rather than included piecemeal in each investigator’s research grant budget.

At the outset of the NEES Consortium Development Project, NSF decided that Operation and Maintenance funds for the Equipment Sites will not be provided via separate NSF awards to the numerous Sites. Instead, NSF determined that it would provide O & M funds for the Equipment Sites to the NEES Consortium, and the Consortium will then provide assessment, budgeting, and contractual oversight in issuing O & M subawards (subcontracts) to the Equipment Sites. An Equipment Site O & M subaward will be in proportion to the amount of shared use at a Site.

3. NEES IT Services Center (NITSC)
NITSC activities must be maintained and supported 24 hours a day for at least a decade, in a production-level environment for the benefit of researchers, educators, and practitioners in the earthquake engineering field. The services must also be modernized and enhanced over time to reflect the evolution of both IT technology and the needs and experiences of the engineering community using them. Some of the costs and responsibilities for IT services are outsourced by the Consortium via portions of the Equipment Site subawards for Site-located IT activities.

The NEES IT Services Center is operated by the San Diego Supercomputer Center of the University of California at San Diego, with initial roles designated for Argonne National Laboratory, Oregon State University, and the University of Michigan.

4. Management
The operations plan is dependent for its success on a sound business strategy that is largely implemented by a “headquarters” or management function provided by Consortium staff. The NEES Consortium, Inc. governance structure is in the hands of its non-paid Board of Directors, as aided by its Committees. Membership is in three classes: Individual, Institutional, and Equipment Site.

The headquarters is organized into four departments, which are aligned with the important Standing Committees of the organization: Finance and Administration, Site Operations, IT Operations, and Education, Outreach, and Training, with an Executive Director providing overall management. The headquarters or management component is by intent the least costly component of the Consortium’s overall budget.


Abrams, Daniel et al., 1995. “Assessment of Earthquake Engineering Research and Testing Capabilities in the United States.” Oakland, CA: Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.

Bordogna, Joseph, 1999. “NSF to Establish ‘Cybersystem’ for Earthquake Engineering Simulation.” NSF news release, February 23, 1999. Washington, DC: National Science Foundation.

EERI (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute), 1984. Experimental Research Needs for Improving Earthquake-Resistant Design of Buildings. Oakland, CA: EERI.

National Research Council, 1993. National Collaboratories: Applying Information Technology for Scientific Research. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

NEES Consortium, 2003. “Bylaws” and “Standing Committee Policies” were adopted January 31, 2004, at the meeting of the initial Board of Directors in Portland, Oregon. Incorporation papers were filed with the State of California January 22, 2003.

NEES Consortium, 2004. “NEES Consortium Operations: FY 2005-FY 2014.” Submitted to the National Science Foundation, Dr. Joy Pauschke Program Manger, October 15, 2004.

Wong, Eugene, 1999. “Testimony of Dr. Eugene Wong.” Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space; Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; US Senate; June 29, 1999.

CUREE Consortium Development Project


Funded by:

National Science Foundation

© 2000-2008 CUREE. All rights reserved.
Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering
last updated 09.14.04