Remembering William A. Anderson (1937–2013)

It is with great sadness that we report the passing of EERI honorary member William A. Anderson (M. EERI, 2001). Trained as a Sociologist at the Ohio State University Disaster Research Center, Bill was a professor of Sociology at Arizona State University before going to the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation in 1976, where he remained for the next 26 years. While on leave from NSF he took a position with the Disaster Management Facility at the World Bank, where he was one of the architects of the ProVention Consortium. In 2001 he moved to the National Academy of Sciences to direct the Disasters Roundtable and serve as associate executive director of the Division on Earth and Life Studies.

William A. AndersonComing from a tradition of field research carried out in the immediate aftermath of disasters, Bill recognized the value of EERI’s Learning from Earthquakes program, enabling multidisciplinary teams to collect perishable data after damaging earthquakes. NSF funding for the LFE program enabled EERI to disseminate field observations through written reconnaissance reports and live presentations throughout the country, and later via the World Wide Web.

Recognizing the need to develop ties to researchers in other earthquake-prone countries, Bill funded a series of international workshops that allowed researchers to exchange information about their work and to develop personal relationships. That tradition served EERI well after major earthquakes in many countries; it lived on after Bill left NSF, ensuring valuable post-earthquake research collaboration throughout the world.

Bob Hanson (M. EERI, 1968), former EERI President and honorary member, who worked with Bill at NSF recalls that “Bill was the ultimate professional, combining the expertise of his own field and a deep appreciation for and support of earthquake engineering professionals. When working with Bill you forgot that he was not trained as an engineer — he had the broad perspective of the needs of the earthquake risk reduction community. All of us, who had the privilege of working with him, will miss his grace in personal and professional interactions.”

Oral History on William A. AndersonIn Bill Anderson’s Oral History, published by EERI in 2011, Kathleen Tierney (M. EERI, 1987), EERI Board Member and Director of the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center noted that Bill was a “visionary and institution builder” at NSF and, subsequently, when he managed programs for the World Bank and the National Academies.

For decades, Bill advocated for multidisciplinary research and, through his persistence and coalition-building skills, played a pivotal role in its increasing importance. Dennis Wenger, who succeeded Bill’s position as the Engineering Directorate at NSF, notes that, “Bill was instrumental in bridging the social and engineering sciences. He fought for us, worked diligently for us, and led us into an expansive, multidisciplinary existence.”

Committed to NSF’s goal to advance knowledge, Bill never lost sight of NSF’s second goal, to fund research that contributed to the well-being of society. To do this, he understood the need to involve practitioners in research programs; there was no other way to ensure that problems faced in practice were addressed by researchers, and that the results of laboratory testing and analytical research were available to those in practice. Bill funded organizations such as EERI, the Natural Hazards Center, and the Applied Technology Council to ensure this critical cross-fertilization. In 2007, Bill Anderson and Chi Liu were the first recipients of EERI’s Special Recognition Award for their tireless work in support of the earthquake engineering profession.

Polat Gülkan (M. EERI, 1993), former Earthquake Spectra Editor and honorary member, remembers Bill as “. . . a small-framed man housing a big heart, endowed with noble manners and a matching erudite speech. The Spectra reviewer pool had very few experts with his broad vision for the needed interaction among the techno-scientific and socio- economic communities in ensuring seismic safety.”

Mary Comerio (M. EERI, 1988), EERI President-Elect, laments that, “Bill Anderson’s passing leaves a sad and empty space in the earthquake engineering community. He was a quiet force — someone who made social science research an integral part of the larger technical research program. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership and his guidance during his many years at NSF. Equally important, we will all remember him for his kindness, good humor, and grace. Bill was a true gentleman. Bill was a family man. We all knew what his wife, Norma, and daughter, Candice, were doing, and he never failed to ask after our spouses, partners, and children. He knew them all and kept track of their progress. The loss of such a person reminds us all to think more and care more about the work and the lives of everyone in our community.”

William A. AndersonActively involved with EERI to the end, Bill rotated off the EERI Board of Directors in 2012 and chaired the 2013 Nominating Committee. This past fall, the EERI Board of Directors, on the recommendation of the Honors Committee, voted to make Bill an Honorary Member of EERI at the 2014 Annual Meeting. Upon learning of this honor, Bill, in his always gracious and giving manner, expressed his gratitude to the members of EERI he had the privilege of working alongside for so many years.

Throughout his career, Bill was a determined advocate for greater involvement of women and other under-represented populations. In his address to the EERI community at the 50th Annual Meeting in 1998, he noted a “shocking lack of participation by persons from minority groups in the profession.” While considerably more women are now involved in disaster research and engineering, there has been little increase in the very few African and Hispanic Americans in earthquake engineering and related disciplines. After a very full and productive career, this remained Bill’s greatest disappointment. We can pay tribute to Bill by building on the foundation he laid that broadened our community, both in the research we undertake and those we work alongside. EERI is looking at ways to honor Bill and to recognize the contributions of this very special colleague.

Celebration of Life Service
The Anderson family is planning a Celebration of Life Service for Bill to be held on March 22, 2014. By the end of January, details for the celebration of his life, as well as an on-line Memorial Guest Book, where those who knew him can post remembrances, will be announced. We will also share the family’s wishes regarding how to honor Bill in lieu of flowers.