Earthquakes pose civil engineers with one of their greatest challenges. Not only can they wreak death and catastrophic destruction to whole societies, but also their occurrence, often in regions which have lain quiet for generations, is sudden and unannounced, as in Italy this week.
It is this that makes them so particularly fearsome.
Earthquakes pose formidable technical challenges, too. Structures and soils are loaded dynamically well into their non-linear range in ways that test engineering skills to the utmost.
However, despite the dismal record of losses over the last 20 years there is great cause for hope as well: the same period has seen enormous advances in the science and practice of seismic engineering and there have been great successes in withstanding major events. This progress has been a truly international achievement, in which the UK has played a full and active part.
The Society of Earthquake & Civil Engineering Dynamics (SECED) is proud to have been part of that process. It was formed in 1969 with the aim of providing a forum for all those involved in combating the effects earthquakes - not just civil engineers but also seismologists, earth scientists and other related professionals.
One particularly important role has been that of bringing together practitioners and researchers, so that the latest needs and knowledge are shared and refined.
The liveliness of SECED's regular meetings and the enormous success of the 12th European Conference on Earthquake Engineering, which SECED hosted in London this September, are testimony to its success. SECED is an active supporter of publications such as the ICE Dynamics guide, of training courses and, through the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT), of earthquake field missions.
SECED faces a new millennium in a strong position to continue its role of promoting the development of seismic engineering. It has an active membership and its strong financial position means that it is well placed to realise initiatives planned ahead. As SECED's current chairman, I am delighted to introduce this special supplement, and hope that it encourages you to find out more about what is a vital and absorbing field of engineering.
For more information about SECED and earthquake engineering visit www. seced. org. uk, email secretary@seced. org. uk or call (020) 7665 2238