UW News

January 23, 2019

First-of-its-kind center hosts tools to analyze the effects of natural disasters

After a natural disaster, researchers often want to collect information about what happened so that they can improve infrastructure and community resilience in the future.

A center housed at the University of Washington, which opened its doors Sept. 1, offers a new way for these scientists to get their hands on state-of-the-art equipment to study the effects of natural disasters. The RAPID Facility, which is the first of its kind in the world, contains over 300 instruments — including eight different drones, headsets to record brainwave activity and a remote-controlled boat that uses sonar to scan what’s happening underwater — that are available for researchers around the world to use. The facility also hosts staff members who support data-gathering missions either by training scientists to use the equipment or by helping with data collection and analysis.

“It really empowers many people in the research community to begin doing the kind of work that they weren’t able to do before simply because they didn’t have access to these tools,” said facility director Joseph Wartman, a professor in the UW’s civil and environmental engineering department. “Our vision is to transform the natural hazards research field by helping researchers collect high-quality data that is useful across disciplines. We hope it will lead to a deeper understanding of the impacts of natural hazards so we can reduce their effects in the future.”

See a related story on KOMO (broadcast story here).

For more information about RAPID, see a related story from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering or visit the RAPID website.

Since September, RAPID has sent equipment and/or researchers to help assess damage after multiple natural disasters, including hurricanes Michael and Florence, an earthquake in Japan, an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia, and large landslides in Alaska and near Portland, Oregon. In addition, the team helps researchers study natural hazards in large-scale laboratory settings, and has been assisting a research team in Japan with collecting and processing earthquake-simulation data from the largest shake table in the world.

“We digitally archive these disaster scenes so they can be analyzed and reanalyzed and made available to the research community, to first responders, to rescue groups,” Wartman said.  “Anyone who wants to investigate natural disasters, we’re here to serve them.”

RAPID was initially funded in 2016 and is part of the National Science Foundation’s Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure program.


For more information, contact the RAPID office at 206-616-3318 or uwrapid@uw.edu.


B-roll, soundbites and photos are available upon request.