"Magnitude 8.8 earthquakes come along pretty infrequently and so this is a truly rare earthquake affecting a significantly developed country," UC Berkeley professor Jack Moehle said.
Moehle is anxious to learn how buildings, in Chile, where seismic codes are similar to ours, held up under an 8.8 magnitude earthquake.
"And so it's really important to get down there and find out, is it because there's a deficiency in the code or is it because there was a deficiency in construction."
Moehle will be leading the Learning from Earthquakes reconnaissance team, which includes about 20 researchers and engineers from around the country. He will rendezvous with Bay Area colleague Bill Holms, chair of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.
Holms is looking specifically into hospitals. He says the durability of hospitals is vital to earthquake recovery. They have to survive and remain functional. But in California, many hospitals are not in compliance.
"Some of these buildings are actually collapse hazards, a reasonably small percentage, but many of them are not expected to be functional after severe shaking," Holms said.
These field observations are important because it is hard to replicate the actual conditions in a laboratory.
The team of engineers will also examine levees, dams, and port facilities and what they find in Chile could have strong implications in Northern California.