Quake test could prompt ways to shore up hospitals

Apr 18, 2012, 1:33 AM

Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) – What happens when a series of massive earthquakes hits a five-story medical facility with an intensive care unit, operating room and elevator?

Structural engineers at the University of California, San Diego, began tests Tuesday to find out.

Over the next two weeks, they will repeatedly rock an 80-foot-high building erected on a giant shake table as part of a $5 million experiment funded by government agencies, foundations and others.

The project stands out because researchers are studying what happens to items inside the building _ such as elevators, stairs, lights and medical equipment _ rather than just the building’s structure.

A group of hard-hatted scientists, engineers, earthquake safety experts and news media stood in front of the mock facility to witness the first tests Tuesday.

“In five minutes, 1994’s Northridge earthquake recorded at Los Angeles,” a loudspeaker announced.

The table simulated the motion created by the magnitude-6.7 quake that heavily damaged the Los Angeles region.

The towering 1.4 million-pound building jolted and slid back and forth. But there were no sounds of crashing computers, crumbling concrete walls, bursting water pipes or hospital beds hurtling into walls.

Then came an even bigger one _ a fake quake similar to Chile’s massive 8.8 temblor.

The building swung erratically in an impressive dancing motion as if it was on a skateboard. But the overhead lights and a computer monitor that could be seen through the windows on the top two floors, which feature a mock surgery suite and intensive care unit, did not appear to be moving dramatically.

“The ground moved a lot and the building actually stayed put,” Jose Restrepo, a construction engineering professor at UCSD said after the tests.

More than 500 sensors and 80 cameras have been placed strategically throughout the building outfitted with a heating and air conditioning system, functional sprinklers, computer servers, laboratory equipment, working oxygen lines, electrical equipment and wiring.

For the first tests, the building was placed on base isolators _ which are like giant shock absorbers. In a week, researchers will remove the isolators and place the building directly onto the shake table to conduct the tests again.

Researchers expect to see damage at that point. After that, they will start a fire to see how flames and smoke travel through quake-damaged buildings.

The majority of hospitals in California are built without the technology of isolators _ which cushion the blows to prevent much of the movement on the upper floors of buildings. Only four such hospitals have been built with isolators in Southern California, Restrepo said.

Tuesday’s tests show what a difference the isolators can make in minimizing the impact of quakes, he said.

The project reflects a new way of thinking among earthquake safety experts who have been focusing on shoring up hospitals, large apartment buildings and schools so communities can rebound quickly after a disaster.

Since the Northridge temblor and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area, billions of dollars have been spent on retrofitting thousands of unreinforced brick buildings, roads, bridges and university buildings.

Meanwhile, thousands of potentially dangerous concrete school buildings, high-rise apartments and hospitals built before California changed its building code in 1976 have not been identified, according to experts.

Richard McCarthy, executive director of the California Seismic Safety Commission, said the tests will help in the development of better building codes.

“We learn from our successes and our failures, not only in the United States, but all around the world,” he said.

Researchers expect to publish their findings after spending the next year analyzing the data.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Coroner: Central Illinois plane crash killed Santa Fe couple

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — A coroner Monday identified a Santa Fe, New Mexico, couple as the two people killed when a single-engine plane crashed on a roadway in central Illinois. Killed in the crash Saturday in the small community of Hanna City were 75-year-old pilot James Everson and 67-year-old Lisa Evanson, Peoria County Coroner Jamie […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Medical investigator rules Baldwin set shooting an accident

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The fatal film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin last year was an accident, according to a determination made by New Mexico’s Office of the Medical Investigator following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports. The medical investigator’s report was made public Monday by […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, smiles as he plays bridge following ...
Associated Press

Buffett’s firm buys more Apple, Amazon while betting on oil

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Warren Buffett’s company bet more on high-tech darling Apple and e-commerce giant Amazon during the second quarter, while also investing billions in old-school oil producers Occidental Petroleum and Chevron. Berkshire Hathaway detailed all its second-quarter investments Monday in a new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Wall Street follows Berkshire’s […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

Burgum aims to allow pledge recitation at meetings, schools

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum said Monday he’ll work with legislators on a bill next session to “guarantee that the opportunity exists” for students and elected governing bodies to say the Pledge of Allegiance, if they choose. The Republican governor’s announcement comes after the Fargo School Board last week announced plans to stop […]
16 hours ago
Associated Press

California man jailed after sharp sound, Vegas airport panic

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A California man jailed in Las Vegas on suspicion of causing a loud noise that sparked panic and travel delays Sunday at Harry Reid International Airport had been arrested at the airport less than 24 hours earlier for allegedly causing a disturbance near a ticket counter, a police official said Monday. […]
16 hours ago
FILE - In this undated file photo provided by the County of Los Angeles, incoming Los Angeles Count...
Associated Press

Recall election aimed at LA prosecutor fails to make ballot

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A high-profile attempt to recall a progressive district attorney in the nation’s most populous county has failed, after organizers were unable to collect sufficient, valid petition signatures to place the proposal before voters, election officials said Monday. In a region that has seen rising crime rates and brazen smash-and-grab robberies and […]
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
Quake test could prompt ways to shore up hospitals