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Roland Sharpe


1923 - 2018 Obituary Condolences
Roland Sharpe Obituary
Roland Sharpe
Dec. 18, 1923 - March 15, 2018
Los Altos Hills
Roland Leonard Sharpe of Los Altos Hills passed away on March 15, 2018. He was 94. Mr. Sharpe was a notable seismic engineer who made significant contributions to building safety codes and helped design many well-known structures in earthquake- and hurricane-prone regions.
Mr. Sharpe was born on December 18, 1923, the last of seven children, in Shakopee, MN. He lost his father at age 5, and was raised by relatives in until he could support himself with a newspaper route at age 13. World War II broke out while he was studying engineering at the University of Minnesota, and he signed on as a regular in the Marines. In late 1943, while serving in the South Pacific, he applied for the V-12 program, where the government would pay enlisted men to go back to college. He was one of the select few chosen and returned to the United States to go back to school. He finished his Bachelor's degree at the University of Michigan in Civil Engineering in 1947, and his Master's in 1950. In 1946, he married Jane Steele, whom he had met at the university.
In 1950, the Sharpes moved to California, where Mr. Sharpe took a job at the engineering firm of John A. Blume and Associates. He was offered a 90-day job that ended up lasting 23 years. His first big project was the Moffett Field wind tunnel. In the 1950s, he also designed a number of notable Bay Area buildings, including the Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue in San Francisco, and the South Terminal at SFO. He specialized in massive structures built to withstand strong earthquakes. He also went to Puerto Rico, where he designed hurricane wind-resistant buildings such as the Sheraton Hotel and the El Atlantico.
From 1960-66, Mr. Sharpe was the Technical Director in charge of the design and construction of the Stanford Linear Accelerator. He was responsible for recommending both the current design (instead of the initially proposed two parallel tunnels design), as well as its present site. After his work on SLAC, he became involved with the seismic safety of nuclear power plants. As Vice President and General Manager at Blume, he was highly involved in the Diablo Canyon power plant design. From 1968-73, Mr. Sharpe was the lead design reviewer for 20 nuclear power plants under the United States Atomic Energy Commission. When he started this work, the AEC did not have any seismic design criteria in writing. Mr. Sharpe was instrumental in getting the design criteria documented as a Regulatory Guide.
In 1971, Mr. Sharpe founded the Applied Technology Council (ATC), which he subsequently directed for 13 years. This advisory council proposed earthquake-resistant designs and evaluated the designs of existing buildings. In 1973, Mr. Sharpe left Blume to found his own company, EDAC (The Engineering Decision Analysis Company), a new engineering consulting firm. EDAC came up with some innovative nuclear power plant piping research for Commonwealth Edison in Illinois. As a result, two Bay Area companies (NUTECH and Forell-Elsesser) bought out EDAC in 1987.
From 1973-84, he came to devote more time to ATC as well. A proposal was made for nationwide seismic safety guidelines. This landmark document was put together by ATC in four to five years for the National Bureau of Standards. It became the basis for American as well as Japanese seismic building codes. It was the precursor for FEMA's design guidelines (National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program). The building standards were also adopted by HUD and the Federal Highway Administration.
Mr. Sharpe was one of the founders of the Building Seismic Safety Council in about 1981. In the year 2000, the different building code organizations finally agreed to publish one code, called the International Building Code. Mr. Sharpe made major contributions to earthquake safety in building design throughout the world. He traveled extensively, and worked cooperatively with his counterparts in Japan to develop safer building practices in earthquake-prone regions. He was the first non-Japanese to be honored with a membership in the Japan Structural Consultants Association. Due to his lifetime of devotion to seismic safety, he made a significant impact in building codes, hazard assessment, and retrofitting practices. He was the author of over 200 technical papers throughout his career and was also a valued member of many professional organizations.
He and his wife Jane raised their three children in Palo Alto, California, and had been living in Los Altos Hills for the past 40 years.
Mr. Sharpe was predeceased by his son Douglas Sharpe in 2014. He leaves behind his wife of 71 years, Jane, his daughters Deborah Sharpe of Oakland, CA and Sheryl Mailander of Campbell, CA, and his three grandchildren, Jennifer Sharpe and Katherine Sharpe of Alamo and Ryan Mailander of Campbell.
A memorial service, open to the public, will be held May 19, 2018, 3-5 PM, at the Peninsula Bible Church, 3505 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94306.


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Published in San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on May 15, 2018
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