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Karl V. Steinbrugge

Professor of Structural Design, Emeritus




Karl V. Steinbrugge, structural engineer, and Professor of Structural Design in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley from the early 1950s until his retirement in 1978, passed away at home in Los Gatos, California, on Tuesday, October 9, 2001. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Betty), his son, Alan Erik, and his daughter, Ann Marie.


At Berkeley, it was his responsibility to teach basic structural engineering principles and concepts to upper division and graduate architecture students enrolled in design studies and a combined set of multidisciplinary courses. His primary teaching assignments at the graduate level of courses were in Architecture 222, Design Problems in Structure and Design, and Architecture 223, Architecture Design for Seismic Forces. In 1974 to 1976, he also served as the chair of the Chancellor's Seismic Safety Review Board, which established priority criteria for the seismic strengthening of buildings on the Berkeley campus. During the early part of this period he was appointed head of the Earthquake Department of the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau in San Francisco, now the Insurance Services Office. Graduate students in particular appreciated his constructive reviews on the principles of seismic safety regarding their design projects, and respected his critical comments.


Karl was born on February 8, 1919, in Tucson, Arizona. In 1941, he graduated from Oregon State University, Corvallis, with a B.S. in civil engineering. From 1944 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Navy as an aviation electronics technician's mate. Over the years, Karl served as a professional consultant to many state and federal government agencies and published extensively, as is clearly reflected in his well known book, Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tsunamis: An Anatomy of Hazards.


In 1972, as one of the pioneers in the recognition of the need for effective pre-disaster planning for a potential major earthquake catastrophe, Karl and Dr. Ted Algermissen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce, were coauthors of a joint technical report, A Study of Earthquake Losses in the San Francisco Bay Area, Data and Analysis. At the time, the purpose of the report was to provide the Office of Emergency Preparedness (OEP) and the State of California with a rational basis for planning earthquake disaster relief and recovery operations in the San Francisco Bay Area. In subsequent years, similar earthquake studies and analyses were completed for the U.S. Department of the Interior on Puget Sound (Washington), Salt Lake City (Utah), Los Angeles (California), and Hawaii.


From 1954 to just before his death, Karl was an active member of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), and served as president during 1968-69. In 1994 he was awarded the EERI George W. Housner Medal in recognition of his contributions to professional and public service in seismic safety. Also in 1994, he was honored with the presentation of the SSA Medal by the Seismological Society of America. He was also a member, since July 1947, of the Structural Engineering Association of Northern California (SEAONC) .


Through a series of state and federal grants available to him for research in seismic hazards mitigation, many of his architecture students at UC Berkeley were engaged in fieldwork, data collection, and analysis under his close supervision. These students quickly learned, absorbed, and put into practice many of the basic principles of seismic safety and design from the point of view of architecture and site-planning. Richard Spickard, one of Karl's former graduate students, now a senior project manager for a prominent construction firm in the San Francisco Bay Area, states that:


 "For many of us in the design and construction fields, Karl Steinbrugge was the first person to explain the impact that earthquakes would have on our professional lives. He was quite passionate about the subject in clearly affirming that earthquakes needed to be better understood. In order to make improvements in engineering, planning, public policy, and emergency response, you had to learn from the past. As I think about the issues that we face today, I realize that what Karl was so passionate about has stayed with me long after the classes were over."


After the Kern County, California, earthquake in 1952, Karl conducted a field inspection of damage that this earthquake produced. He took many on-site photos and slides, which he then meticulously documented and catalogued. This was the beginning of an extraordinary collection of his own photos concerning the behavior of civil engineering facilities during severe seismic events that occurred from 1952 to 1989, not only in the U.S., but around the world. This collection was expanded to include photos, slides, and field information regarding historical earthquakes dating from the 1868 Hayward, California, earthquake. Karl originally used this collection effectively during his active teaching, professional, and consulting career, but over time it drew increasing interest for use as a baseline resource by others. Finally in 1992, to make this extraordinary collection more available, Karl donated it to the library of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center (EERC) at UC Berkeley. The gift consisted of 5,800 slides and 10,000 photographs, all exceptionally well documented. Ten thousand photos and slides have already been digitized and have become an invaluable resource of computer-retrievable information on earthquakes and earthquake-caused damage, which has been used extensively by engineers, architects, geologists, researchers, and students at all levels. EERC reports that it has received an average of l00,000 on-line hits per month, over 50% of which are for education and research purposes.


Following the Anchorage, Alaska, earthquake in 1964, Karl completed several major on-site reconnaissance studies, including a summation on the impact of property damage and the economic losses which followed. After the 1971 San Fernando, California, earthquake, he became a major professional, dedicated to the development and improvement of seismic safety measures in California and at the federal level of government. In California, working closely with Senator Alfred Alquist, he oversaw the work of nearly 70 volunteer advisors to the Joint Legislative Committee on Seismic Safety. He was directly involved in several critically important legislative actions that were passed into law, including the Hospital Seismic Safety Act of 1973, the Alquist-Priolo Geologic Hazards Zones Act of 1972, the authorization of the California State Capitol Building Restoration, and the Seismic Safety Commission Act of 1974. During this period, in cooperation with Senator Alquist and Governor Ronald Reagan, Karl served on the Governor's Earthquake Council, and later, with Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., he helped in the formation and initial appointments of the California Seismic Safety Commission. Karl served as its first chairman from 1975 to 1977. In 1988 he was the first person, after Senator Alquist in 1987, to be awarded the Alfred E. Alquist Award for Achievement in Earthquake Safety in California.


At the federal level under President Carter, and after the passage of the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, Karl was appointed as chair of the working group on Earthquake Hazards Reduction, Office of Science and Technology, Executive Office of the President. During Karl's tenure, a final report and recommendations totaling 231 pages, Earthquake Hazards Reduction: Issues for an Implementation Plan, was published by the working group through the Executive Office of the President in 1978. Earlier, in January 1972, as a faculty member of the University of California, he was also appointed to serve as an engineering consultant to the Disaster Study Group of the OEP under President Nixon, for assistance in identifying disaster preparedness recommendations for an annual report to Congress.


As an energetic member of the UC Berkeley Department of Architecture, SEAONC, EERI, SSA, and California and federal committees and commissions, Karl stands out as a unique person. The impact of his outstanding teaching, research achievements, publications, and public service made him worthy of international recognition. He will be missed by all his friends, Berkeley faculty and students, and professional colleagues. As indicated by Robert A. Olson, the first executive director of the California Seismic Safety Commission in Sacramento, "he will be remembered by all professionals for the huge footprint he left on the landscape of seismic safety."


Vitelmo V. Bertero

Henry J. Lagorio