The nightmare: A magnitude 6.7 earthquake rocks the neighborhood. Sidewalks buckle. Brick houses crumble. A water main snaps and floods the street.
And then, boom! A nearby house is engulfed in a ball of flames when its natural gas line ruptures.
Wailing sirens mute barking dogs and shrieking children, but with no water to douse the flames, the fire rages on unchecked.
Thomas O’Rourke, an engineer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is working to ensure this scenario never becomes reality.