Earthquake Scientists Fill 5-Story Building to Shake

Image credit: UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

On the world's largest outdoor shake table, a team of engineers at the University of California, San Diego, today began a two-week series of tests to study how a five-story, concrete building - and its contents - react when hit by an earthquake.

"For the first time, they've integrated the nonstructural components - the pieces of everyday life - that have not been tested before," said Joshua Chamot, the engineering media officer for the National Science Foundation, which is supporting the $5 million project.

Researchers hope that the project reveals what needs to be done to keep buildings such as hospitals and other high-value sites up and running during a quake and helps improve design and construction practices.

The building is located at the foundation's Englekirk Structural Engineering Center, one of 14 large-scale engineering test beds.  It contain an intensive-care unit, a surgery suite, a stairwell and working elevator.

Tara Hutchinson, a professor at the university's Jacobs School of Engineering and the lead principal investigator, said the tests were like "giving a building an EKG to see how it performs" after an earthquake.

More than 500 sensors and more than 70 cameras throughout the building will allow researchers to examine how these things are affected during a quake.

Chamot said the infrastructure would be shaken by tremors similar to the earthquakes that struck Northridge, Calif., in 1994 and Chile in 2010.  The 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile killed more than 700 and destroyed more than 500,000 homes.

The testing, which is supported by various organizations, will also examine how a building's fire barriers, including sprinkler systems, work after an earthquake.

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