World's largest quake simulator tests buildings

July 14, 2009 6:56:49 PM PDT
An unprecedented experiment in Japan Tuesday could have major repercussions for those living in the earthquake-prone Bay Area.

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It was the biggest test ever on the world's largest earthquake "shake table" in Miki City, Japan.

A video, from Bay Area company Simpson Strong-Tie shows a 40-second simulation using a seven-story mock condominium tower, made of wood.

The quake magnitude is 7.5, 10 times more powerful than the 1994 Northridge quake that sent so many wood structures tumbling.

The metal connectors for the building in Japan were made by Pleasanton's Simpson Strong-Tie, part of a two-year collaboration with Colorado State University.

"Preliminarily, we're very impressed; from the exterior, it didn't look like we saw too much damage, they're still doing the surveys inside to see what performed well and what didn't," Simpson Strong-Tie engineer Paul McEntee said.

Right now, building codes in the U.S. rarely permit the construction of wood-frame buildings taller than five stories in earthquake-prone areas. But that could change if those buildings could be made safer.

At Simpson Strong-Tie's Pleasanton lab, technicians conduct 400 experiments per month, all designed to make sure their connectors can withstand the type of forces Bay Area residents might see.

The goal of these experiments is to avoid the kind of catastrophic structural damage done to buildings in Northridge, or during the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

"We like things to be strong, we like them to yield and dissipate energy and that's a lot of what we saw in the test today," McEntee said. "There will be damage in a big earthquake. We want the building to be occupiable, and to stand up and for everyone to get out of it safely."

The mock condo in Japan had 23 one and two-story living quarters. The building withstood the big shake; now researchers will further analyze their results to see how many units were damaged and whether their occupants would have escaped without being hurt or killed.

LINK: ABC7 Earthquake Preparedness Guide
LINK: Bay Area Earthquake Tracker

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