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Endowment established to foster research on catastrophic risk

STANFORD -- Haresh C. Shah, the Obayashi Professor of Civil Engineering and a world authority on earthquake damage, has become increasingly concerned in recent years that research into the impact that major natural hazards like earthquakes have on human communities is fragmented and disjointed.

"There is a lot of good work being done, not only on the engineering aspects of natural disasters but also about the legal, economic and social aspects,” Shah says. “But no one is pulling all these strands together.”

He decided to do something about it. At Shah's urging, he and his family, a colleague, the School of Engineering and the Department of Civil Engineering have jointly established the Shah Family Fund, an endowment that will total a little over $1 million when it is complete. Income from the fund will be used to promote research on campus into natural disasters and catastrophic risk.

"For some time I have thought that we should extend the work that we are doing at Stanford on earthquakes to cover all aspects of catastrophic risk, that which arises not only from earthquakes but also from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and lightning. There is tremendous intellectual horsepower at Stanford that can be applied to these problems, resources that will be greatly magnified if people work together," Shah says.

According to the engineer, human communities are like living organisms. They cannot be completely described by the number of inhabitants, the number of buildings or other basic statistics. As a result, protecting this organism from natural hazards requires very clever solutions provided by a large number of people from a variety of disciplines working together.

Income from the new endowment will attempt to promote such a cooperative approach in two basic ways:

  • First, it will establish an annual lecture on catastrophic risk that will bring world authorities to Stanford to speak on various aspects of this issue.
  • Second, it will provide fellowships for students interested in studying in this general area. Preference will be given to students in civil engineering, but if there are no such individuals in the department, it will be opened up to those from other departments.

In addition, endowment income will be used to establish a $1,000 prize to be given annually to a staff member in the School of Engineering who has demonstrated excellence in his or her work.

"The university is a partnership between students, faculty and staff. Too often we overlook the staff. So we decided to include this award, even though it has nothing to do with natural disasters," Shah says.

The Shah Family Fund is being established by Shah; his wife, Mary- Joan; and his two sons, Hemant and Mihir. The money will come from a personal gift from the family plus equity from the sale of Risk Management Solutions Inc., a company established by Hemant Shah based on research done on campus by Haresh Shah and Weimin Dong, now the company's senior vice president for research, and later licensed by the company through the Office of Technology Licensing. Proceeds from the sale of stock held by the Shah family, Dong, the Department of Civil Engineering and the School of Engineering make up the majority of the endowment.

"I hope that the seed that we are planting will produce something wonderful. It will have all the fertilizer, all the water it needs, and plenty of sunshine. All it will require is proper nurturing," Haresh Shah says.



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