America’s infrastructure needs work. The nation’s bridges and buildings—both old and new—were designed to avoid collapsing during an earthquake or other major catastrophe, but aren’t quite up to the task of remaining inhabitable after disaster strikes. Douglas P. Taylor is president of Taylor Devices, which manufactures seismic dampers that protect structures during such events as earthquakes and high winds. He is inventor or co-inventor of thirty-four patents in the fields of energy management, hydraulics, and shock isolation. In 2015, he was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame by NASA and the Space Foundation. Below are his thoughts on how America’s vital infrastructure can better prepare for disaster. For more information, visit
MPT: Most people think of seismic activity as a West Coast problem, but where is America really at risk?
Douglas P. Taylor: Earthquakes are possible just about any place, not just in California. New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and many other places that you don’t usually think about can have seismic activity, as Oklahoma recently did. If buildings, bridges, and other structures aren’t designed to withstand the shock, they can endanger the lives of drivers and the building’s occupants.
MPT: How widespread is this concern and what are some of the outlying issues to be addressed?
Douglas P. Taylor: Across the United States, 58,500 bridges are structurally deficient, according to a report by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. That represents about 9.5 percent of the nation’s bridges. That’s definitely a concern for the people who use those bridges every day. From a technological standpoint, they can be fixed, but the money to do so isn’t coming any time soon, at least in part because the nation’s debt makes it difficult for the government to make the appropriate investment in the nation’s infrastructure.
Some older buildings aren’t designed to withstand a seismic event. For example, many of the old brownstone apartment buildings in New York have virtually nothing holding them together if the building whips back and forth. Anything made of brick or concrete also can be problematic.
MPT: Are the current building codes sufficient to ensure a facility is safe after seismic activity?
Douglas P. Taylor: People think that if they move into a brand new building that meets all the modern building codes, that their building will perform well during earthquakes and they will be able to inhabit them immediately after a seismic event. They also think the contents of the building, including personal items, will be intact. This is simply not true. Lack of awareness may be a major factor in keeping the necessary fixes from happening.
MPT: Is this a proverbial “ticking time bomb” or is better preparation possible now?
Douglas P. Taylor: I think you can look at the nation’s vulnerability in this area as a bad news and good news situation. Clearly, the bad news is the potential hazard for people and property. The good news is that we’re not facing something that’s unsolvable. We as a nation just need to recognize that these problems exist and have a determination to address them. ◆
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