SISSY_2017_1sm web

Sissy Nikolaou

Dr Sissy Nikolaou, PhD, PE, D.GE, F.ASCE

AVP, Principal of Multi-Hazards & Geotechnical Engineering

WSP Fellow of Earthquake Engineering


Sissy Nikolaou is Assistant Vice President and Principal of WSP with 20+ years of global engineering experience. She oversees the WSP’s geotechnical earthquake engineering practice and leads the multi-hazard resilience initiative of the firm’s Geotechnical & Tunneling Technical Excellence Center. Her consulting approach emphasizes performance-and resilience-based design, soil-structure interaction, and geo-risk assessment and mitigation. Her experience involves numerous critical infrastructure and transportation projects and high-rise structures in New York and Mexico cities.

Driven by a desire to find innovative solutions that protect populations and help them emerge stronger from natural disasters, Sissy has been part of reconnaissance and studies after major natural disasters. For her contributions in earthquake engineering, Dr. Nikolaou was invited to the White House to participate in the Earthquake Resilience Summit of 2016 by President Obama and was named Technical Fellow of Earthquake Engineering of WSP in 2017. Her recognitions include the Prakash Prize for Excellence in Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering, the 2017 ACEC-NY Principal of the Year, and leadership Board positions in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), Applied Technology Council (ATC) and the Geo-Institute of ASCE.


Earthquake Resilience: Design Utopia or Elective Reality?

by Dr. Sissy Nikolaou, PE, D.GE, F.ASCE

Resilience was introduced as the most pressing research and practice challenge in earthquake engineering more than 15 years ago. Since then, it has become a catchphrase that, under its placard, has initiated major efforts for the future of infrastructure, facilities, and communities served by them globally. The abstract resilience concept has been stretched so much at the risk of becoming a modern Tower of Babel, where occupants talk without really understanding each other. However, resilience is not a trend that sounds good at water-cooler conversations – it’s making informed decisions based on risk assessments that rely on the best knowledge, science, and technology available, while optimizing funding allocation. Earthquake engineers historically have and continue to pioneer such developments that are adaptable to other fields of climate change and multiple hazards.

The speaker will present her views on the pragmatic – rather than the idealistic – future direction of earthquake engineering resilience, including: (i) translating the common desire for resilience into quantifiable terms, design frameworks, and decision support tools; (ii) addressing needs of a multidisciplinary dialogue, cascading hazards, and interdependencies between buildings and lifelines; (iii) incorporating functional recovery as a fundamental metric of life quality, that represents the social need of resilience as not a “bouncing back,” but rather a “bouncing forward” strategy; (iv) using engineering as an art form which can be carved with innovative tools and documented lessons of failures and successes to create future cities and safely sustain existing communities; (v) integrating the human factor through a holistic approach that requires education, clear communication and trust, risk prevention, equity and inclusion, and growth.

Examples from reconnaissance of major recent earthquakes, consulting projects, and applied research will be included, with highlights of successful seismic performance as living proof of the value of a philosophy that targets resilient performance. This evidence enhances the confidence of the stakeholders and the public on earthquake design and technologies and demonstrates that the earthquake engineering leadership is essential in the path to resilience that is the obvious and – possibly the only – choice for the future, as the traditional alternative is no longer enough.