Researchers Develop Shake Table to Mimic Earthquake Conditions

The researchers, led by structural engineering professor Tara Hutchinson, will use a giant earthquake “shake table” — a rectangular hydraulic platform designed to mimic the shaking motions of an earthquake — to recreate the conditions of the 6.7 magnitude Northridge quake of 1994. 

The scientists began testing at the country’s largest shake table, built by UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering at Scripps Ranch, this Tuesday, April 16.  

“What we are doing is the equivalent of giving this whole building an EKG,” Hutchinson told the San Diego Union-Tribune on April 16. “We want to see how it performs after an earthquake and a fire.”

The narrow structure, which resembles a tower, is designed to serve as a model for a variety of building types. While the bottom three floors have been constructed like private homes, the top two have been built to function as a realistic model of a hospital.

The hospital-like top floors of the building have been outfitted with a full surgical suite, including an intensive care unit and a working elevator. 

These floors are completely electrified to resemble the conditions of a real hospital being subjected to an earthquake.

Once the building has been subjected to the full battery of earthquake tests, it will be set on fire to determine how structural damage induced by these disasters affects the spread of fire. 

Because gas and electrical lines are frequently broken by seismic shaking, fires are a common side effect of earthquakes. 

The researchers hope to get a better understanding of how fires spread in damaged buildings. 

They believe this information will help them design buildings that are more resistant to flames when broken down.

Scientists will be able to record every last detail of the movement  as things crumble, shatter and burn. 

The interior of the building will be monitored carefully — with over 500 sensors and 70 cameras — throughout the testing. 

In addition to simulating the Northridge earthquake — one of the costliest disasters in California history — researchers also plan to model the 7.9 magnitude quake that struck Alaska in 2002. 

This earthquake is of particular interest because the vibrations of Alaskan fault lines tend to resemble the vibrations along the San Andreas fault system, which dominates seismic activity in southern California.

Finally, the researchers plan to recreate the conditions of the 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile in 2010. 

 The Chile quake, which occurred on Feb. 27,  was one of the largest in recorded history. It resulted in over 500 fatalities and caused a tsunami that touched every corner of the Pacific rim.

The $5-million project received materials and funding from corporate partners, government agencies and the National Science Foundation.

Tara Hutchinson was not available for interview as of press time.

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