Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • ROBERT P. KENNEDY (1939-2018)



    ROBERT PHILIP KENNEDY was a guiding force in developing design requirements for critical facilities (nuclear power plants, nuclear test facilities, and industrial facilities) that might be subjected to rare but extreme external forces, such as strong earthquake motions, external blasts, and wind loads. Bob passed away Dec. 30, 2018, at age 79.

    Bob was born April 2, 1939, to Percy C. and Gertrude L. (Thomann) Kennedy in Glendale, California, which is located about 10 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, and he was raised in the nearby communities of Glassell Park and La Canada. He enrolled at Stanford University in 1957 and graduated with three civil engineering degrees: a Bachelor of Science in 1960 (with Phi Beta Kappa honors), a Master of Science in 1961, and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1967. His undergraduate studies were supported in part by a Holmes and Narver engineering company scholarship, and Bob worked summers for that company in Los Angeles. His graduate studies at Stanford were under the direction of Professor Jack Benjamin and were supported by a fellowship from the U.S. Department of Defense. While a graduate student, Bob co-taught a class on blast-resistant design with his Stanford classmate and fellow Benjamin advisee, Allin Cornell (NAE 1981), which started their lifelong collaboration. A dedicated athlete, he was on the swimming and water polo teams through graduate school and remained a lifelong fan of Stanford athletic teams.

    In May 1964, before finishing his Ph.D., Bob joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He moved to Ft. Belvoir in Virginia, and after finishing basic training, he was placed in charge of officer training engineering courses. In August 1965, he volunteered to move to Okinawa, Japan, to work on the design and construction of the U.S. Navy Cam Rahn Bay logistics facility. This was an experience he described as unique and invaluable, but which gave him no time to complete his dissertation. After being discharged from the Corps in May 1966, Bob joined the engineering consulting company Holmes and Narver as a full-time employee, which allowed him time to finish his Ph.D. requirements. He completed his Ph.D. dissertation, “A statistical analysis of the shear strength of reinforced concrete beams,” in April 1967.

    Employed by Holmes and Narver, Bob moved to the Las Vegas office, where, from 1968 to 1970, he conducted work related to underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. This gave him experience in designing structures, such as seven-story instrumentation towers that were subjected to very high vibrational loadings during nuclear tests, and in evaluating the efficacy of those designs. He became a key member of the new Nuclear and System Science Group formed by Holmes and Narver Vice President John Garrick (NAE 1993).

    Soon after Bob moved back to Southern California, the San Fernando earthquake occurred Feb. 9, 1971, and this resulted in significant and interesting work for him. Holmes and Narver, including Bob, were doing some engineering consulting work for the Anheuser Bush brewery in the San Fernando Valley at the time of the earthquake, and they assisted in repairs of the brewery, which had been seriously damaged. In 1973, Anheuser Busch asked Bob to develop the seismic design criteria for a new brewery they were planning to construct in Fairfield, California, because they did not want a repeat of what happened in the San Fernando earthquake. This was one of the earliest performance-based seismic designs for the commercial sector, and Bob developed site-specific design criteria, including accounting for the soft soils underlying the brewery, recommending seismic design forces that were several times what were required by the building code at the time. These design requirements applied to the structures and to equipment such as the large horizontal cylindrical stainless steel beer brewing tanks used at the site. The design specifications were recently reviewed and found to comply with current requirements, some 50 years later.

    In 1977, Bob left Holmes and Narver to start the Southern California office of the Engineering Decision Analysis Corporation, a company formed by Jack Benjamin.

    In 1980, Bob formed and served as the president of Structural Mechanics Associates to continue his consulting work on how to design structures and equipment to protect them against extreme loadings. He chaired the American Society of Civil Engineering committee that prepared the first design standard (ASCE 4-84) for the seismic analysis and design of safety-related nuclear structures and equipment. He chaired the Senior Seismic Review and Advisory Panel that jointly advised the Seismic Qualification Utilities Group and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on the use of earthquake and test experience data to develop seismic criteria and design levels appropriate for nuclear facilities. Bob’s research found that early code requirements regarding the design of reinforced concrete beams did not provide sufficient shear capacity and led to improvements to those code requirements.

    Bob was one of the few engineering experts who could counsel both regulators and the regulated industry without any sense of a conflict of interest. He was instrumental in many programs that developed guidance and approaches that were ultimately endorsed by both the nuclear power industry and the NRC. As an example, the NRC’s Seismic Safety Margin Research Program was completing its development of the seismic probabilistic risk assessment (SPRA) methodology, and the nuclear industry was carrying out several probabilistic risk assessments, including SPRAs, to address some licensing issues. Bob was at the center of these activities as a technical leader developing innovative approaches for fragility and plant response analysis. The SPRA methodology that Bob and others developed is now used worldwide to address many safety and operational issues and make decisions consistent with the overall safety of nuclear facilities.

    Bob provided consultation to the U.S. Department of Energy on the analysis and design of structures, systems, and components for extreme dynamic loadings. These included blast loadings, external missile and aircraft impact, and impulsive loadings resulting from loss-of-coolant accidents, with a focus on earthquake, impactive, and impulsive loadings at sites including Los Alamos National Laboratory, Savannah River Site, Hanford, and Yucca Mountain.

    The revision of national seismic design standards was initiated in the early 1990s to over-come some of the difficulties associated with existing regulations. The challenges were that seismic shaking was characterized by a range of seismic motions with associated annual probabilities of exceedance, and the strength of a designed facility was quantified by its responses (in terms of probabilities of failure) to a range of seismic motions. The first goal was to guide engineers to select a seismic design basis to assure that the overall seismic safety of the facility during its lifetime was acceptable. The second goal was to establish an acceptable performance goal (overall probability of seismic-induced failure of the designed facility). Bob’s insights and technical acumen were critical to addressing these challenges and goals, to the inclusion of probabilistic seismic hazard analysis in regulations, and to developing guidance for the use of probabilistic seismic hazard analysis. Ultimately, the development of a new seismic design basis was related to the ASCE 43-05 performance targets under Bob’s leadership.

    Bob’s contributions after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan were most crucial in coming up with approaches to many difficult and complex issues in a short time frame that were acceptable to both U.S. regulators and the nuclear industry. His credibility and clear explanation of underlying technical bases made this possible. Bob’s lifelong work on probabilistic approaches, risk-informed and performance-based approaches, and many other aspects of seismic analysis and design were brought into play.

    Throughout his life, Bob always advocated adopting state-of-the-art techniques for evaluating extreme load analyses into state-of-the-practice design. This substantially advanced geotechnical, structural, mechanical, and nuclear engineering and design and made possible the use of probabilistic risk analysis, resulting in more informed engineering decisions about designs. Bob was a proponent of quantifying uncertainties, both known and unknown, and accounting for those uncertainties in design decisions. He advocated for having explicit performance goals for systems and components and having the safety levels of those performance goals depend on the possible effect of failure of those systems and components. These methods were adopted in both the nuclear power industry and energy test sites (through the Department of Energy), but also in numerous other projects such as the Alaska pipeline, berthing structures for the Port of Long Beach, and military facilities subjected to threats (through the Defense Nuclear Agency).

    On a personal level, Bob loved to travel within the United States and to distant parts of the world to experience different cultures and traditions with his family. He always insisted on renting cars and driving his family around foreign countries, even if that meant driving on the left side of the road. Bob was also an avid gardener, caring for over 70 rosebushes in his yard.

    Bob is survived by his wife Arline, whom he met in 1962 and married in 1963 while at Stanford, and by four sons, Peter, John, James, and Michael.


    Several associates of Bob, who worked with him at different times, contributed important perspectives to this memorial tribute: Robert Bachman, Nilesh Chokshi, Gregory Hardy, and Michael Salmon.