(TNS) — University of Texas researchers have been awarded a $13.7 million federal grant to develop a software platform and other cyber tools to help engineers construct buildings, levees, bridges, highways and other structures that are better able to withstand earthquakes and other natural hazards.

"There is tremendous potential to save lives and property through better engineering, design and planning," said Ellen Rathje, a civil engineering professor and the project's principal investigator.

The grant from the National Science Foundation, to be paid out over five years, will fund development of a Web platform, data repository and other tools that will allow engineers to simulate how various designs of structures, including residential housing, would hold up in an earthquake, hurricane, tornado or coastal storm surge, Rathje said.

The goal is to make such simulations and modeling efficient and inexpensive. The platform will be accessible to engineers around the world, in part through the use of open-source software such as the OpenSees program for earthquake simulations that UT President Gregory L. Fenves developed when he was on the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.

Rathje, a specialist in earthquake engineering, will lead the UT team, which also includes Clint Dawson, an aerospace engineering professor, and Dan Stanzione, a specialist in high-performance computing. The team has partners at Rice University, the Florida Institute of Technology and other universities.

"Collaborative engineering research is critical to making our buildings and lifelines resistant to earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes," Joy Pauschke, a program director at the National Science Foundation, said in a written statement. 

©2015 Austin American-Statesman, Texas, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.