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UB is Shaking Down the House

By Joyce Kryszak

Amherst, NY – The walls will soon come tumbling down at UB. Researchers at the university's earthquake simulation laboratory are building a full scale two-story townhouse - so they can watch it shake apart.

When finished, this three bedroom, 1,800 square foot home will be complete with bay windows, a stuccoed exterior and fully furnished.

Then it will be violently shaken apart.

Andre Filiatrault with UB's engineering school is lead researcher on the four-year, $1.4 million research project, funded by the National Science Foundation. Filiatrault said it took the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles for researchers to realize they needed to study wood structuresa during a seismic event.

"Out of the $40 billion that were lost in terms of property loss during that earthquake, about half of that was related to wood structures," said Filiatrault. "And that was a very big eye opener, because for the first time we has a significant seismic event in a highly populated area and wood certainly didn't do that great, certainly from a property loss point of view."]

Wood structures were also to blame for the human toll. All but one of the 25 people who died in the 1994 earthquake died inside collapsed wood buildings.

To find out why, the house is being built inside UB's earthquake laboratory atop two shake tables. Once finished, researchers will watch what happens as it's shaken at incrementally greater so-called shake levels.

One thing they will study is what effect dampers would have in preventing damage. Filiatrault said the paneels arre built into walls, kind of like the shock absorbers used in cars to absorb vibration.

"Well, we can do that same thing in buildings to absorb the lateral motion of the building when it shakes," said Filiatrault. "Now, this technology, a lot of it has been developed here by fellow colleagues at the University of Buffalo, and has been implemented a lot on taller structures, but never on wood structures."

The big test will come this November. That's when researchers will intentionally destroy the house by simulating a massive, 8 plus point seismic event.

It's a quake that happens only once every 2500 years. But researchers say that future wood designed structures should be ready to handle anything.