Shake-and-Bake Test for Five-Story Building

Most products undergo shock and vibration testing, but what if your product is a five-story building, including an intensive-care unit, a surgery suite, piping and air conditioning, fire barriers, and an elevator?

According to writer Ioana Patringenaru of the University of California, San Diego, structural engineers at the university will conduct a two-week series of tests on what she calls the world’s largest outdoor shake table at the Englekirk Structural Engineering Center. The goal of the $5 million project, which is supported by a coalition of government agencies, foundations and industry partners, is to ascertain what needs to be done to make sure that high-value buildings, such as hospitals and data centers, remain operational after going through an earthquake.

After the shake tests, the researchers will assess whether the building’s fire barriers have been affected. During the tests, more than 500 sensors (including accelerometers, strain gauges, and GPS devices) and more than 70 cameras will record what happens within the building.

Patringenaru quotes Professor Tara Hutchinson of the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego as saying, “What we are doing is the equivalent of giving a building an EKG to see how it performs after an earthquake and a post-earthquake fire.” Hutchinson is working with a multi-disciplinary team of academics and industry representatives.

According to Patringenaru, “This is the first time in the United States that tests focus on a broad range of nonstructural systems and equipment that can malfunction during an earthquake, such as a working elevator, stairs, and a broad array of medical equipment. The tests also include modern ceiling systems, a heating and air conditioning system, functional sprinklers, computer servers, large and small laboratory equipment, and electrical equipment and wiring.”

The building will be tested with and without a base-isolation system composed of rubber bearings intended to isolate a building from lateral motion it would experience during an earthquake.

I've reported earlier on structural monitoring, but such applications typically involve monitoring in response to naturally occurring activity instead of monitoring the response to deliberate excitation. During the testing, the researchers will simulate these temblors: the 1994, 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake; the 2002, 7.9-magnitude earthquake that took place in Denali, Alaska; the 2010, 8.8-magnitude earthquake in Chile; and the 2007, 8.0-magnitude earthquake in Peru.

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