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San Diego Earthquake Tests Show Risks Inside Buildings

— Newly published research finds fire is a serious threat in earthquake damaged buildings.

Aired 3/18/13 on KPBS News.

Newly published research finds fire is a serious threat in earthquake damaged buildings.

Last year's tests on UCSD's outdoor shaking table provided the insight. Researchers built a five story building on top of the outdoor earthquake simulator.

Scientists subjected the structure to several strong earthquakes and then started a fire inside the building.

An overall shot of the five-story building that will be tested at the Englekirk Center at UC San Diego starting April 16.
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Above: An overall shot of the five-story building that will be tested at the Englekirk Center at UC San Diego starting April 16.

Cracks in walls and ceilings can let fire spread. Jammed elevator doors can block escape routes and allow smoke to move through a structure.

Unstable staircases greatly increased the chance for loss of life if a fire starts after a quake.

The shake table experiment was a crucial examination of the risks created in a structure after a quake.

"In a lab scale test you can't see how the building works together," said Brian Meacham is a researcher at Worchester Polytechnic. "But on this shake table, being able to see this five story structure you really understand the overall implications."

Meacham hopes the findings will lead to better building standards and safer buildings.

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