Weekly tip: Earthquake tests provide inside look at hospital structures

Hospital Safety Insider, June 21, 2012

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On April 17, a hospital building in Southern California shook violently, swaying as the ground below it registered a 6.7 magnitude earthquake.

After 60 seconds the quake stopped, and for the time being, the building seemed to be miraculously unharmed.

Fortunately, the scenario wasn't real. Instead, it was the first in a two-week series of tests conducted by the University of California, San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. A five-story hospital building was affixed to a shake table designed to simulate devastating earthquakes. The second round would simulate the 8.8 magnitude quake that occurred in Chile in 2010.

All of this was part of an ambitious study conducted by researchers to determine how components of hospitals hold up structurally against some of the worst earthquakes ever registered. The $5 million project, funded by the California Seismic Safety Commission and the National Science foundation, included testing of base isolators and the use of cameras to find out how the interior of the hospital building responds to an earthquake. The interior was even outfitted with furniture and a replica ICU to better imitate the intricacies of a hospital building.

"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," Tara Hutchinson, professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego and the project's lead principal investigator, said in a press release after the initial tests.

Initial results showed minor cosmetic damage to the interior, but Hutchinson stated that had the building been occupied, it would have remained occupational after the simulated earthquakes.

This tip was excerpted from the July issue of Briefings on Hospital Safety.


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