The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) is pleased to announce that Mary C. Comerio (M.EERI 1988) an internationally recognized expert on disaster recovery, is the recipient of the 2022 George W. Housner Medal. The Housner Medal, EERI’s highest award, recognizes members of the Institute and others who have made extraordinary and lasting contributions to public earthquake safety through the development and application of earthquake hazard reduction practices and policies.
A trailblazer in bringing together the fields of architecture and disaster recovery, Comerio has a long history of service to and leadership with EERI. She has served as president of EERI, as a member of the Board of Directors, Honors Committee, and the Learning from Earthquakes (LFE) committee, and as a Distinguished Lecturer. She was also a member of EERI’s post-earthquake reconnaissance teams to Umbria and L’Aquila, and leader of the team to Christchurch. In 2019, EERI honored Comerio with an honorary membership to the Institute. Comerio is also the first woman to be featured in Connections, EERI’s oral history collection.
Comerio holds master’s degrees in Architecture and Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis. In 1978, she joined the faculty in the Department of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and served as chair from 2006-2009. As an architect, Comerio has designed numerous public and private facilities. Her research focuses on the costs and benefits of seismic rehabilitation (particularly housing), post-disaster recovery and reconstruction, and loss modeling. She is the author of Disaster Hits Home: New Policy for Urban Housing Recovery. In 2011, she received the Green Star Award from the United Nations for her work in post-disaster reconstruction in China and Haiti. Comerio led Building Systems Research at the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center during the ten years when PEER was one of three NSF-funded national earthquake centers. She also served as co-principal investigator on one of the National Science Foundation’s Grand Challenge projects focused on the mitigation of collapse risk in non-ductile concrete buildings. Her building inventory and loss-modeling led to the creation of the Los Angeles “Resilience by Design” plan. In 2019, Comerio was a visiting professor at Sapienza University of Rome's Department of Structural and Geotechnical Engineering. She serves on the Governing Board of the QuakeCoRE Center for Earthquake Resilience in New Zealand, and continues to consult internationally on disaster recovery and resilience planning.
“As an architect working in the realm of earthquake engineering research, I have always tried to bridge the gap between our technical understanding of earthquake (and other disaster) impacts on the built environment, and the social and economic consequences of disaster losses,” Comerio has said. EERI is delighted to recognize her contribution to the field.