A series of tests on the effect of earthquakes on multi-story buildings began Tuesday at UC San Diego's earthquake simulator.
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Researchers are testing the impact of temblors ranging in magnitude from 6.7 to 8.8 on a five-story building set up to resemble a hospital, including two floors with patient rooms and surgical suites.
"It's probably the most realistic test that's ever been built on an actual table that's going to move," said Capt. Tim Strack, who is with the California Seismic Safety Commission.
Inside the building, numerous cameras captured and collected data as the mock earthquake got under way. The goal was to see how non-structural parts of the building hold up and minimize future earthquake-induced losses in the future.
From outside of the building, it did not look like much. Once inside, there was a lot of movement. Operating tables swayed inside two floors which were set up like hospital rooms. Water splashed out of a rooftop water tank.
"Every screw, every bolt, every beam, the concrete
everything is being tested and managed so we can see what happens when the building actually starts moving," said Strack.
California Seismic Safety Commission Chairman Richard McCarthy said people expect hospitals to be open and prepared to receive patients in the aftermath of a natural disaster.
"Unfortunately, we know this isn't always the case," he said. "The research obtained in this shake test will help us retrofit and design hospitals so that they can continue to function after a major earthquake."
Strack told 10News that authorities have historically investigated an earthquake's effect on structures after it strikes, sorting through rubble and ash.
"Now we get to watch it happen, and if you can watch it and monitor it and meter it at the same time, that's invaluable," Strack said.
Hard hats were required in and around the site. Once the tests were over, researchers and engineers got an up-close look. Researchers from as far away as Chile, who have seen their own earthquake damage and devastation up close, traveled to San Diego to learn from these tests as well.
The team of engineers, professors and students at UC San Diego's Englekirk Center said it is better to gather information now before the next big earthquake. They say it is especially important in Southern California, where earthquakes are recorded on a daily basis.
Engineers and students will continue the testing for another two weeks.
Once the seismological tests are complete, a fire will be set to determine how quake damage affects the spread of flames, according to the commission.
The testing coincides with the three-day annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America at the Town & County Resort in Mission Valley. The gathering includes a public town hall meeting tonight featuring San Diego State University geology professors Kim Olsen, Tom Rockwell and Pat Abbott, Robert Hawk of the city of San Diego and Mark Legg of Legg Geophysical. They will speak about earthquakes, landslides and tsunamis.
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