New Guided Online Course Offers Insights on Earthquakes, ASCE 7

March 3, 2016
Buildings devastated by the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Photo: Justin Marshall

Not that you ever want to go through a significant earthquake, but it certainly makes for a good way to tell who the civil engineers are in a crowd.

Alex Tanner, S.M.ASCE, was in Anchorage, AK, with his fellow members of the University of Southern California Student Chapter in January for an ASCE Multi-Region Leadership Conference. As he was about to fall asleep in his 12th-floor hotel room, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked the city.

“So we all go downstairs. It’s 2 in the morning, and the lobby is filled with all the other civil engineers,” said Tanner, who shared the same hotel with many other MRLC attendees. “The other people who aren’t civil engineers are all worried. And the civil engineers were like, ‘Wow, that was so interesting.’ I heard someone say, ‘I wonder if we got any data on it.’”

It’s no surprise ASCE members are always seeking to learn more – even immediately following a 2 a.m. earthquake. ASCE’s new guided online course, Earthquake Engineering for Structures, offers a continuing-education opportunity in more comfortable confines – in front of your computer.

“It really makes it accessible to people,” said Finley Charney, Ph.D., P.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE, who will serve as the course co-instructor. “You don’t have to travel. You can get in and out of it. You can work on the course over your lunch break.”

ASCE 7-16, the industry standard for minimum design loads for buildings and other structures, is scheduled for publication this fall. The Earthquake Engineering for Structures course ties in nicely with that release.

“We try to give a lot of the background to what ASCE 7 is and why it does what it does,” Charney said.

The course begins April 4 and includes 12 weeks of lessons, each about 90 minutes long. Charney is co-teaching the course with Auburn University civil engineering professor Justin Marshall, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, who will produce all the video lectures in the course. The lessons also feature different interactive pieces – scenarios, decisions, questions.

Charney said he developed the course in large part to teach the fundamentals of earthquake engineering that lie behind codes and standards.

“I think it’s important for people to understand the ‘why’ of ASCE 7 and not just the ‘how,’” Charney said. “There’s plenty out there that teaches you how to solve the problem. This course is geared toward the why, understanding the fundamental concepts of seismic-resistant design.

“That’s really the focus of the class.”

All of which will help the next time ASCE members find themselves out of the classroom and in a real-life earthquake as happened at the MRLC in Anchorage.

“It was a weirdly cool experience,” Tanner said. “Of course I say that because no one got hurt. As civil engineers, we’re taught about earthquake engineering, and then we got to experience it.”

Earthquake Engineering for Structures is one of the first two offerings in ASCE’s new series of guided online courses. The other is Drinking Water Treatment Technology. Registration is open now.

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