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Simulated Earthquake Shakes Steel Building In San Diego

San Diego researchers put the world's largest outdoor shake table through its paces, with a six-story steel structure on top.

The force of a killer Southern California earthquake shook through a manufactured building Wednesday on the world's largest outdoor shake table in San Diego.

A huge piston underneath the shake table recreated the force of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which killed more than 50 people.

The six-story steel frame building on top of the shake table seemed to do pretty well as the severe forces moved the structure.

The building moaned. Small pieces of sheet rock fell off.

The project's lead researcher, Tara Hutchinson, said she'll have a better idea on how the building performed when she examines the test's research data.

That could eventually lead to better building rules.

"If we understand the load distributions, the seismic inertial load distributions, a design engineer has a better handle of future design practice," Hutchinson said.

One of the things researchers are doing is measuring the damage to buildings and in this case they're using drones to help figure that out.

Drones took detailed digital images before, during, and after the tests to measure the impact of the shaking. That allowed researcher Falco Kuester to create digital models of the structure.

"The idea is to assess what type of damage occurred, what the potential danger is to the inhabitants. And after an event, how to flag a building," Kuester said.

A rapid red, yellow, or green designation gives authorities a fast assessment so they can target relief efforts. Red buildings need evacuation, yellow have damage and green are OK.

Researchers will compare the drone-gathered information to the actual structure to confirm the accuracy of their digital scan.

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