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SDSU professor, others go to Turkey to analyze damage caused by earthquake

SDSU professor and Turkey team
Posted at 6:46 AM, May 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-05 11:41:32-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – A San Diego State University professor was among a group that traveled to Turkey to study the massive damage caused earthquakes that rocked the southern part of the country and northern Syria.

“This was the future California ‘big one’ that my team and I actually saw,” said SDSU professor Dr. Rob Dowell.

Dowell -- who has 30 years of bridge engineering experience and a Ph.D. in seismic bridge behavior -- and other researchers flew to Turkey to analyze the structural damage after the two historic earthquakes.

“Well, the most interesting thing we had, as I said, tens of thousands of buildings collapsed and not a single bridge structure,” Dowell said. “And not just found by looking ourselves and driving to the other effected areas, but by talking to people; professionals and others.”

And Dowell and the team became well connected to the situation while doing their research.

“It was the largest aftershock of all of the aftershocks since the big earthquake,” Dowell said. “This was just after our first day in the field and suddenly the building started swaying. I looked at all the workers, the staff that were serving kabobs and their eyes were huge. And because they had just been through something devastating two weeks earlier and they all just ran out of the building.”

Dowell told ABC 10News seeing these heavily damaged but not collapsed bridges in Turkey can be encouraging for California.

“You look at the last five or six big earthquakes in California, we’ve learned new things. Those have been adopted into the specifications and, interestingly, adopted into the Turkey specifications; cut and paste,” Dowell said. “There’s this process. And the fact that no bridges collapsed in Turkey was a major thumbs up to California.”

Knowing what Dowell and the team know now, Dowell said California can make better adjustments to its bridges to be ready for the “big one” after what they found in Turkey.

“As in terms of the bridge structures, I think we can feel pretty good. There are lessons learned and in future designs I think certain things will change based on what we found. And it’ll just improve the bridges, future bridges,” Dowell said.

Dowell said Caltrans has invited him to present his finds to their annual seismic committee on how to implement it into design codes and changes.