Sissy Nikolaou, PhD, PE, is a practicing earthquake engineer with more than 20 years of experience. She is a Multi-Hazards & Geotechnical Engineering Principal with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff in New York City, where she oversees the organization’s multi-hazard resilience engineering practice. Her education includes a Diploma from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece and M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB), where she is now an Advisory Board member of the Dean of Engineering.
Her technical capabilities span from structural to geotechnical engineering in multi-hazard environments with emphasis on performance-based engineering, seismic hazard analysis, liquefaction evaluation and mitigation and risk/resiliency assessment of critical facilities. Sissy’s approach to challenging bridge, infrastructure, and private development projects is to bring together multidisciplinary teams to develop unique, creative solutions in continuous dialogue with clients.
Sissy is a dedicated EERI member with many leadership roles over the years. She was one of the founding members of the UB student chapter and the New York-Northeast Regional Chapter where she currently serves as President; she is a member of the Initiatives Development Committee (IDC) and a mentor to several student chapters. She serves on scientific committees, including the one that created the 2014 New York City Building Code, and has been part of reconnaissance and recovery missions after disasters including 9-11, Hurricane Sandy, and several earthquakes. With an active involvement with the academic community, Sissy keeps advancing the state of practice of earthquake engineering as is evident in her numerous publications and in recognitions such as the Prakash Prize for Excellence in Practice of Earthquake Engineering.
I am honored and humbled to be part of the Board of Directors of EERI, an organization that is energetic, forward-looking and gets things done. Recent climate and geological multi-hazard events, such as the Tōhoku mega-earthquake and tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, Oso landslide and the Eastern US Virginia earthquake are an urgent reminder of the exposure of mega-cities and large urban centers to vulnerabilities of damage and downtime that can affect large concentration of populations and the economy at large. Increased urbanization worldwide, combined with climate change, exposes urban centers to these risks with increasing frequency. My vision during my tenure on the EERI Board of Directors is to have a dialogue on this issue within our earthquake community that spans many disciplines and geographic locations. EERI provides an ideal platform for such discussions among planners, engineers, architects, environmental scientists, owners, decision makers and the affected public.
I see earthquake engineering as an art form that can be carved using the proper tools to create future cities and safely sustain existing communities. My goal is to find solutions to the challenge of translating our common desire for resiliency and sustainability into quantifiable terms and incorporate these solutions in engineering design frameworks and codes, while considering factors such as the life cycle of our aged infrastructure. EERI has identified and has been playing a key role in addressing this challenge by supporting mind-broadening ideas and activities, some already born by the Initiatives Development Committee (IDC), on which I have the pleasure to serve. One of the IDC working ideas is to find a different way of observing earthquakes long-term in addition to traditional reconnaissance. Success or failure after extreme events is usually defined by engineering terms of damage, but equally important is the response of communities and an understanding of how interconnected earthquake engineering risk is to the associated disciplines of energy, environment, structures and soils, infrastructure, education, economy and society. My involvement in recovery efforts for Hurricane Sandy, 9-11 attacks, and several earthquakes have been invaluable as they have made me realize that rapid reconnaissance is only part of the bigger picture of how we learn from disasters. We have to visit rebuilt sites years after a major event, study them to realize the evolution of our design philosophy and technologies, and learn from what did or did not work.
To move our field forward, we need to continuously educate ourselves, the engineering community and the public in a real-world, understandable framework. In this mission, there is no better avenue than the younger generation of engineers. By talking to elementary and high school students, or hosting student activities in our NYNE Chapter, I have gained a deeper understanding of complicated concepts such as hazard vs. risk, or the meaning of resiliency. It is my passion and goal as a member of the Board of Directors to exchange ideas, transfer my knowledge, and energize even more our EERI younger members but also the minds of young girls and boys out there so they can consider our profession in the future. After all, what we do is cool! Armed with math, science, materials, innovative gadgets and ideas, we deal with extreme natural hazards aiming at making the planet a safer place.