How do we know if steps taken to reduce damage before an earthquake really work once the ground starts shaking?

For decades building codes have been chasing the damage, as each new earthquake reveals vulnerabilities in construction and preparedness methodologies. As far back as the 1930’s, when the Long Beach earthquake severely damaged school buildings, the powers that be have reacted to the specific damage caused in a specific earthquake to adjust building criteria to prevent the type of damage that occurred in that earthquake from ever happening again. That earthquake damaged many school buildings, and spurned the creation of the Field Act; legislation that was designed to keep schools from falling down in earthquakes. As years pass and earthquakes damage different types of critical facilities, laws are passed and codes are re-written to prevent a reoccurrence of the specific damage that just happened. Hospitals, power plants, tall buildings and residences have joined school buildings, and are now built differently in many earthquake prone areas than they used to be. And whether we are talking buildings or their non-structural components, that still begs the question: will it all work in a large earthquake?

Next Tuesday, April 7th the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEONC) will be hosting a meeting where some groundbreaking information regarding advances in earthquake engineering will be introduced to the engineering community and public at large. What makes this information particularly striking is that it is coming out BEFORE a large earthquake strikes the region. (Unless, of course a big quake hits between now and then).

In a bold and proactive move, Oakland California’s EStructure structural engineering firm and Safe-T-Proof Disaster Preparedness Co. ran tests comparing the traditional anchorage of equipment with rigid steel brackets with the use of flexible, adhesive-based fastening. Items were run through extremely high intensity shaking at the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research facility in Richmond, California.

Titled “Seismic Protection Design for Non Structural Components-What Really Happens When It Shakes?” the presentation will demonstrate how items such as laboratory refrigerators and freezers with what is considered “code compliant” anchorage really do perform in high intensity shaking.   Are there better options to what has been longstanding tradition?

You don’t need to wait for an earthquake to find out.