Thomas Denis O'Rourke

Thomas Denis O'Rourke

Thomas R. Briggs Professor in Engineering Emeritus
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Hollister Hall, Room 422
Associate Director of the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy


Professor O'Rourke is the Thomas R. Briggs Professor of Engineering in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. degree in Geotechnical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S.C.E. from Cornell. Professor O'Rourke has been a member of the teaching and research staffs at Cornell University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His teaching and professional practice include geotechnical engineering for earth retention systems, foundations, and soil/structure interaction; earthquake engineering; underground construction technology, and engineering of large, geographically distributed systems, such as water supplies, gas and liquid fuel systems, electric power, and transportation facilities. He authored or co-authored over 400 publications on geotechnical, underground, earthquake engineering, and impact of extreme events on civil infrastructure. He was principal or co-principal investigator on more than 75 research projects, and has supervised 24 Ph.D. and 22 M.S. theses. Since 1995 he delivered 200 invited lectures, keynote, and conference presentations worldwide.

He is a member of the US National Academy of Engineering, International Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, Mexican Academy of Engineering, Distinguished Member of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received numerous awards from professional societies, including ASCE, Institution of Civil Engineers (United Kingdom), and the American Society for Testing and Materials.

He has served as chair or member of the consulting boards of many large underground construction projects, as well as the peer reviews for projects associated with highway, rapid transit, water supply, and energy distribution systems. He holds US Patent No. 5713393 for "frictionless pipe", Feb. 1998, and jointly holds US Patent No. 8701469 for flexible substrate sensor system for environmental & infrastructure monitoring, Apr. 2014.

Research Interests

Professor O'Rourke developed engineering solutions for problems concerning foundation performance, ground movement effects on structures, earth retaining structures, pipelines, earthquake engineering, tunneling, and infrastructure rehabilitation. He investigated and contributed to the mitigation of the effects of extreme events, including natural hazards and human threats, on civil infrastructure systems. He developed techniques for evaluating ground movement patterns and stability for a variety of excavation, tunneling, micro-tunneling, and mining conditions. He developed analytical methods and siting strategies to mitigate pipeline and tunnel damage during earthquakes, analyzed and designed high pressure pipelines, and established full-scale testing facilities for underground facilities and pipelines. He developed geographical information systems and network analysis procedures for geographically distributed infrastructure systems in areas vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural disasters. He assisted in the development and application of advanced polymer and composite materials for the in-situ rehabilitation of water supply and gas distribution systems.

Teaching Interests

Professor O'Rourke taught the following classes at Cornell: Planning and Engineering for Critical Infrastructure (CEE 3090), Environmental Applications of Geotechnical Engineering (CEE 6440), Retaining Structures and Slopes (CEE 4410/6410), Foundation Engineering (CEE 4400/6400), Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering (CEE 3410), Civil and Environmental Engineering Design Project I & II (CEE 501/502 Rock Engineering), Soil Dynamics (CEE 7450), Graduate Soil Mechanics Laboratory (CEE 742). He received the Kenneth A. Goldman '71 Excellence in Teaching Award (2003) and Daniel Lazar '29 Excellence in Teaching Award (1998), and was Faculty Advisor, for the ASCE Student Chapter when it won the ASCE Robert A. Ridgeway Award (1983) for highest ranked U.S. student chapter.

Service Interests

Professor O'Rourke is a member of the ASCE, ASME, ASTM, AAAS, ISSMEE, and EERI. He was President of Earthquake Engineering Research Institute [EERI] (2003-04) and ASCE Ithaca Section (1981-82). He served as Chair of the National Institute of Standards and Technology/Applied Technology Council Committee on National Lifelines Research and Implementation Roadmap (2013-2014); International Advisory Group, University of Cambridge Center for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (2010-present); EERI Honors Committee (2008-2010); EERI Development Committee (2005-07); Executive Committee, Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (1998-03); NSF COV Review of Civil Mechanical Systems Division (2001 and 2004); National Academy of Engineering, Section 4, Nomination Committee (2000-02); ASCE TCLEE Executive Committee (1998-01); Transportation Research Board (TRB) Subsurface Soil-Structure Interaction, A2K04 (1991-94); ASCE Earth Retaining Structures Committee (1986-90); ASCE TCLEE Executive Committee (1988-89); U.S. National Committee on Tunneling Technology (1987-88); ASCE TCLEE Gas and Liquid Fuel Lifelines Committee (1986-88); ASCE Underground Technology Research Council (1985-86). He testified before U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee on "National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program: Disaster Resilient Communities" (2009), "National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program" (2003), "The Turkey, Taiwan, and Mexico Earthquakes: Lessons Learned" (1999), and "Earthquakes in the Eastern United States" (1985).

Selected Publications

  • O'Rourke, T D., S - Jeon, S. Toprak, M. Cubrinovski, M. Hughes, S. van Ballegooy, D Bouziou.  2014. "Earthquake Response of Underground Pipeline Networks in Christchurch, NZ."  EARTHQUAKE SPECTRA 30 (1): 183-204.
  • O'Rourke, Thomas Denis.  2010. "Geohazards and Large Geographically Distributed Systems."  Geotechnique 60 (7): 503-543.
  • O'Rourke, Thomas Denis, N. A. Jezerski, T. Olson, A. L. Bonneau, M. C. Palmer, H. E. Stewart, M. J. O'Rourke, T. Abdoun.  2008."Geotechnics of Pipeline System Response to Earthquakes."  Paper presented at Geotechnical Earthquake Engineering and Soil Dynamics IV (GEESD)
  • O'Rourke, Thomas Denis, A. J. McGinn.  2006. "Lessons learned for ground movements and soil stabilization from the Boston Central Artery."  Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering 132 (8): 966-989.
  • O'Rourke, Thomas Denis, A J. Lembo, L K Nozick.  2003.  "Lessons Learned from the World Trade Center Disaster About Critical Utility Systems".  Beyond September 11th: an Account of Post Disaster Research.  269-292.  Boulder, CO: Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center.

Selected Awards and Honors

  • Elected Member to the National Academy of Engineering (National Academy of Engineering) 1993
  • AAAS Fellow (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 2000
  • Elected International Fellow (Royal Academy of Engineering (U.K.)) 2014
  • Distinguished Member (American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE Highest Distinction)) 2014
  • Awarded the George W. Housner Medal (Highest U.S. honor for earthquake engineering) (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI)) 2016


  • BS (Civil Engineering), Cornell University, 1970
  • MS (Civil Engineering), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1973
  • Ph D (Geophysical Engineering), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1975


In the News