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Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering records

 Collection — Box: 1-3
Identifier: 51-G-852

Scope and Contents

Collection documents the founding and early years of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. It consists primarily of reports and other formal documents produced by the Center.

Record pertaining to the NSF Earthquake Engineering Research Center Award deal with the University's application for the award, its receipt of the award, and the controversy over it. Other records document administrative, budgetary, and personnel matters.


  • 1983-2004


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Records are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Historical Note

Headquartered at the University at Buffalo, the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) is a national center of excellence that develops and applies knowledge and advanced technologies to reduce earthquake losses. The Center's mission is "to enhance the seismic resiliency of communities through improved engineering and management tools for critical infrastructure systems (water supply, electric power, hospitals). Seismic resilience (technical, organizational, social and economic) is characterized by reduced probability of system failure, reduced consequences due to failure, and reduced time to system restoration."

Robert L. Ketter, a noted structural engineer and 11th president of the University, resigned from the presidency in 1982 to resume his teaching and research position in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and to see to the development of an earthquake research center at the university. An earthquake research center was sorely needed on the east coast, following the premise that earthquakes in the eastern part of the United States are different from earthquakes in the West since they are less common and can be destructive over a much wider area.

On November 10, 1983 a $1.5 million earthquake simulator was dedicated at UB. Dr. George Housner of the California Institute of Technology, widely regarded as the father of earthquake engineering, was the keynote speaker at the event. With this, the University announced the establishment of its Research Center for Earthquake Engineering and Systems Dynamics. Ketter was named head of the new facility. The simulator is a shaking table experimental facility with a five degree-of-freedom system. At the time of its dedication, the seismic simulator was the most advanced in the continent and second only to the system at the Kajima Institute of Construction Technology in Japan.

This was the first step in establishing the University as a seat for experimental research in the field. This, accompanied by the analytical work done by Dr. Peter Gergely, Dr. Tsu T. Soong, and other UB faculty members over the twelve years preceding the installation of the simulator, led to the viability of UB as a true center for earthquake engineering research in the eastern United States.

The Center was formally established in 1986 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the country's first National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER). UB (along with a consortium including Cornell, Lehigh, and Princeton Universities, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory at Columbia University) won "the most hotly contested award the NSF has made in more than a decade" (Buffalo News), beating out Berkeley and its consortium of California schools. The 5-year $25 million grant was to establish the first federally funded earthquake engineering research center to help minimize the loss of life and property due to earthquakes. (Over $25 million in matching funds was contributed by New York state and other sources that included other universities and industry sponsors).

Eight core areas of investigation were isolated at the establishment of the Center: ground motions, soil and soil-structure interaction, system response and serviceability, reliability and risk assessment, laboratory and field experiments, innovative computing and expert systems, design codes, and societal and educational issues. Ketter was the Center's first director and it was under his leadership until his death in 1989. Dr. George C. Lee served as acting director until Dr. Masanobu Shinozuka became director of the Center in 1990.

In the Spring of 1987, NCEER contracted with BRS Information Technologies, Inc. for the development and maintenance of QUAKELINE®, a bibliographic database of documents held by the Center which is now maintained by the Center's Information Service. It covers earthquakes, earthquake engineering, natural hazard mitigation, and related topics. It includes records for various publication types, such as journal articles, conference papers, technical reports, maps, and videotapes. QUAKELINE® was launched in May 1987. By August 1989, the database contained about 8,000 records. As of 2003, it provides access to about 40,000 records.

On May 13, 1991, the National Science Foundation announced the renewal of NCEER's federal grant funding. The second five-year grant became effective on September 1 when the Center's original grant expired and provided the Center with an additional $21 million. Shinozuka returned to Princeton, where he held a faculty position before accepting the directorship of NCEER, in September of 1992 and was succeeded by Dr. George C. Lee.

In 1997 the National Science Foundation expanded the national earthquake research program by establishing two additional earthquake engineering research centers, one at the University of California at Berkeley called PEER (the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research center) and another at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign called MAE (the Mid-America Earthquake center). At that point it became apparent that NCEER needed to change its name. The National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER) officially became the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) in 1998. According to then-director George C. Lee, the new name emphasized "the key to [the center's] success--past, present, and future--the integration of diverse disciplines to solve engineering and societal problems caused by earthquakes" (NCEER Bulletin 12:1).

Dr. Michel Bruneau took over the post of Director in July 2003 after Lee stepped down to resume teaching and research within SEAS and MCEER.

Currently, MCEER unites a group of leading researchers from numerous disciplines and institutions throughout the United States to integrate knowledge, expertise, and interdisciplinary perspective with state-of-the-art experimental and computational facilities in the fields of earthquake engineering and socioeconomic studies. The result is a systematic "engineered" program of basic and applied research that produces solutions and strategies to reduce the structural and socioeconomic impacts of earthquakes.

MCEER is principally sponsored by the NSF, New York State and the Federal Highway Administration. The Center receives additional support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), other state governments, academic institutions, foreign governments and private industry. Since its inception, MCEER has coordinated more than $120 million in projects to reduce our nation's vulnerability to earthquakes.


1.25 Linear Feet (3 manuscript boxes)


Collection documents the founding and early years of the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER). It consists primarily of reports and other formal documents produced by the Center.


The collection in organized into nine series and further divided into subseries: I. NSF Earthquake Engineering Research Center Award II. Administrative--Miscellaneous III. Budget IV. Department--MCEER Information Service V. Personnel VI. Publications VI.A Center Publications VI.B Publications by Center Staff VII. Reports VIII. Research (Seismic Events) IX.Teaching and Public Events IX.A Forums IX.B Seminars

Acquisition Information

The collection was received in a number of accessions, both formal and informal. One accession (87-009), received on February 27, 1987 from Robert L. Ketter, includes the Earthquake Engineering Research Center Proposal. Another accession (89-009), received in 1989, contained the extensive 3rd-year self-study conducted by the Center.

Another group of materials was received in December 2003 from the publications branch of MCEER, part of that accession was integrated into this collection, the rest was dispersed to the Archives' serials collection.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Related Resources in the University Archives

  1. 51/0/00-1, Archives Serial Collection: MCEER Bulletin (formerly NCEER Bulletin)

Related Resources on Robert L. Ketter

  1. 4/11/65, Clippings File
  2. 4/11/324, Records Related to the Evaluation of President Robert L. Ketter, 1973
  3. 4/11/581, Presidential Speeches
  4. 4/11/657, Inauguration Scrapbook
  5. 4/11/672, Inauguration Files
  6. 4/11/675, Appointment Books

Processing Information

Collection processed by Karen Walton Morse, December 2003.


Finding Aid for the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER) records
Finding aid prepared by Karen Walton Morse.
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Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)