May 2012

Robert Whitman, Hazus Earthquake Committee Chairman, Dies at 84

World-renowned geotechnical engineer and expert on earthquakes, Robert V. Whitman, ScD, P.E., F.ASCE, died on February 25 at the age of 84. As committee chairman, Dr. Whiteman oversaw the development of the Hazus Earthquake Model. This included the preparation of a state-of-the-art study of earthquake loss methodologies, development of the Hazus technical methodology and software, pilot studies in Portland, Ore. and Boston, Mass., and validation of Hazus results based on five California earthquakes including Northridge and Loma Prieta. Under Dr. Whitman’s direction HAZUS 97, HAZUS 99 and HAZUS-MH were produced. 

"Whitman was a model chairman, who knew how to guide the committee firmly and quickly to worthwhile results amid broad and complex technical issues. His leadership was readily accepted both by committee members and developers, who presented before the committee. He was definitely one of the pivotal figures in the creation of Hazus and making it what it is today,” said Philip Schneider, program director for the Institute’s Hazus program.

Born in 1928 in Edgewood, Pa., Whitman pursued a childhood interest in civil engineering for his entire career. After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1948, he went on to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he gained a master’s and a doctorate’s degree in structural engineering. He then served in the Civil Engineer Corps at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from 1954 to 1956. In the 1960s, Whitman worked on developing stable foundations for long-range tracking radars. This research led him to become an expert in the new discipline of soil dynamics.  Whitman joined the faculty at MIT’s Department on Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) in 1957 where he taught civil engineering until he retired in 1993 and moved into his role of Professor Emeritus. 

Dr. Whitman co-authored Soil Mechanics (John Wiley & Sons, 1969), an influential reference text for geotechnical engineering. In the 1970s, Whitman’s major focus was on reducing earthquake hazards and he helped develop the Massachusetts State Seismic Code and worked on framing the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program. He subsequently helped to introduce centrifuge testing to the U.S. geotechnical community. Whitman also pioneered the study of risk-based geotechnical engineering and in 1981, presented his work on risk analysis at the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) National Convention.

Whitman helped form the Federal Emergency Management Agency's five-year Earthquake Hazard Mitigation Plan and chaired the National Research Council’s committee that produced the influential report Liquefaction of Soils During Earthquakes in 1985 and proposed a methodology for estimating losses from earthquakes before leading the committee that developed Hazus. Dr. Whitman also made significant contributions to the Applied Technology Council’s report Tentative Provisions for the Development of Seismic Regulations for Buildings, which provided the first national earthquake hazard maps.

Some of Dr. Whitman’s many accomplishments include, being elected to the National Academy of Engineering and serving as President of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI). In 1987, he received the American Society of Civil Engineers Terzaghi Award and the EERI’s George W. Housner Medal, in 2010, which recognized his sustained leadership and contributions to earthquake engineering.
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