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Speaker Biography: Mary Comerio

Mary Comerio Mary Comerio

Mary C. Comerio joined the faculty of the Department of Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley in 1978. She holds Master’s degrees in Architecture and Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently on the Editorial Board of EERI’s journal, Earthquake Spectra.

As an architect, she has designed numerous public and private facilities including market-rate and affordable housing, commercial and public buildings. Her research on the costs and benefits of seismic rehabilitation for existing buildings has been widely published, and she is the nation’s leading authority on post-disaster reconstruction. Comerio began her involvement in seismic issues with an NSF-supported project aimed at educating building officials and homeowners on retrofit strategies for wood-frame houses. Excerpts from her 1982 monograph, Earthquake Hazards and Wood Frame Houses, have been reprinted in numerous books and magazines.

Her research for the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco in the 1980s established a precedent for evaluating the economic impacts of building codes for existing structures. This work influenced the building codes in both cities, and contributed to key policies for implementing seismic risk reduction: a $250 million state bond issue, and a $350 million San Francisco bond issue dedicated to seismic rehabilitation.

In 1997, she was part of the EERI international team investigating the earthquake impacts in Assisi, Italy. During the 1990s, Comerio completed research on housing issues in urban disasters. The results were published in numerous papers and a book, Disaster Hits Home: New Policy for Urban Housing Recovery (U. C. Press, 1998). The book looks at the repercussions in sheltering, government assistance, housing finance, and insurance after urban disasters.

In recent years, Comerio has been a faculty researcher with the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center. Her work has focused on the risks and potential losses to universities and private corporate campuses in a variety of earthquake scenarios. She has expanded the definition of loss to include detailed evaluations of downtime, loss of function, and building nonstructural elements. Her report on the Economic Benefits of a Disaster Resistant University can be found on the UC/IURD web site. Current work on nonstructural losses and upgrade strategies will be available from PEER in the near future.
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