BUFFALO, N.Y. -- To learn more about how whole buildings move
during earthquakes, engineers test models of them on powerful shake
tables precisely calibrated to deliver the shock and rumble of
historic ground temblors.
Researchers have long wished for an equivalent testing method to
simulate how architectural, mechanical, electrical and
plumbing/piping systems, as well as building contents, are impacted
during earthquakes, especially in critical facilities like
Now they have one.
A new testing facility at the University at Buffalo and MCEER is
the world's first test apparatus specifically designed to subject
costly equipment and mechanical systems in hospitals and other
important structures to the precise floor vibrations that they
experience during the strongest earthquakes.
The new Nonstructural Components Simulator (NCS) in UB's
Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory (SEESL)
today underwent its inaugural demonstration, reproducing full-scale
earthquake vibrations in real-time on a two-story, life-sized
replica of a fully equipped composite hospital room.
"No other facility in the world has this capacity at present,"
said Gilberto Mosqueda, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil,
structural and environmental engineering in the UB School of
Engineering and Applied Sciences and lead designer and builder of
the facility with Rodrigo Retamales, a doctoral student in the same
The NCS features a two-story-high, four-column swivel test frame
supporting two steel-grid platforms, which together represent two
adjacent floor levels in a building. The system replicates two
upper levels of a multi-story building through the use of four
high-performance hydraulic actuators that push and pull the
platforms up to 40 inches in each direction, at velocities of 100
inches per second, simulating in real-time how upper floors move
"The complete apparatus is capable of simultaneously reproducing
these very large and fast motions at two different floor levels in
real-time, allowing for very precise examination of the impact of
vibrations on building content and equipment during the strongest
earthquakes," said Mosqueda.
The launch of the UB Nonstructural Components Simulator comes as
sweeping changes affect building codes nationwide and a new
California law challenges hospitals to secure "nonstructural
components." These include everything that is permanently attached
to the building, but is not part of its skeletal structure, such as
electrical and mechanical equipment, piping, wall partitions,
computer installations and, in hospitals, all medical, diagnostic
and surgical equipment.
Industry representatives attending a symposium held today at UB
on "Seismic Regulations and Challenges for Protecting Building
Equipment, Components and Operations" shared their experiences on
how they address code requirements for various "nonstructural"
systems. Attendees learned about how the new UB facility may be
able to help them qualify the equipment and systems that they
manufacture according to new International Building Code
regulations. Information on the symposium is available at http://mceer.buffalo.edu/Nonstructural_Components/.
Mosqueda said that the facility will enable UB and MCEER
researchers and government and industry partners to reproduce
full-scale floor motions to better understand, quantify and control
seismic response of very costly equipment.
The new facility also provides engineers with the opportunity to
compare an earthquake's impact on nonstructural components in
different types of structures.
That's critical, say earthquake engineers, especially in light
of the California legislation.
California's Senate Bill 1953 requires that by the year 2030,
acute care medical facilities must remain fully functional after an
Both the California legislation and the building code changes
signal a major shift in how structural engineers, architects and
other professionals go about protecting new and existing
construction projects from earthquake damage.
"Engineers must look beyond structural issues and give thought
to how building contents may shift about, suffer or cause damage or
inflict injury," said Andre Filiatrault, Ph.D., UB professor of
civil, structural and environmental engineering and director of
SEESL. "They must also consider the economic issue of business
disruption, when such systems and/or equipment fail in an
earthquake. This is extremely critical in the case of
MCEER is especially well-suited to studying these issues, said
Filiatrault, since a substantial part of its work has focused on
mitigating seismic damage to hospital buildings, where
nonstructural components represent more than 90 percent of an
"More and more, we are seeing buildings survive earthquakes
without collapse, but they still suffer business disruption due to
major nonstructural damage," Filiatrault said.
The work he and his colleagues are undertaking with the new UB
Nonstructural Components Simulator is designed to keep buildings
functional, especially hospitals and acute-care facilities, the
services most critical to initial post-earthquake response and
"Nonstructural components are very complex and fairly difficult
to model and analyze," explained Andrei Reinhorn, Ph.D., Clifford
C. Furnas Professor of Structural Engineering at UB and former
"We had done some testing of various nonstructural components
with our existing advanced equipment but found we needed a special
testing facility to accurately understand and assess them," he
In part, that's because nonstructural components inside
buildings are not subjected to ground motions, but rather to the
building's motions, which are an amplified version of the ground
"A roof is going to move a lot more than the ground floor,"
explained Filiatrault. "Similarly, a PET scanner or an MRI machine
located on the upper floor of a hospital is going to experience far
more shaking than equipment on the ground floor."
Now that the Nonstructural Components Simulator is operational,
manufacturers and property owners are invited to take advantage of
UB's facility to test their products.
Design and construction of the UB Nonstructural Components
Simulator was funded with a $260,000 National Science Foundation
supplemental grant to the original $11.2 million award in 2004,
which made UB's SEESL a leading node in the George E. Brown Jr.
Network of Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES), a nationwide
earthquake-engineering "collaboratory." Total cost of the UB
SEESL/NEES upgrade was $21.2 million.
"This capstone addition to what is recognized as the most
versatile earthquake engineering testing facility will allow us to
validate and greatly expand the knowledge generated over the past
decade through NSF-funded MCEER research activities to achieve
seismic-resilient hospitals," said Michel Bruneau, Ph.D., director
of MCEER and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental
Mitigation and response to extreme events, whether manmade like
terrorist attacks or natural events like earthquakes and
hurricanes, is a research strategic strength identified in the UB
2020 strategic plan being implemented by the university.
The UB-NEES site, MCEER and UB's Department of Civil, Structural
and Environmental Engineering co-sponsored today's symposium and
the UB NCS dedication/demonstration.
Additional information on the NCS is available at http://seesl.buffalo.edu/Facilities/Major_Equipment/nes.asp.
MCEER, headquartered at the UB, was founded in 1986 as a
national center of excellence in advanced technology applications
dedicated to reducing losses from earthquake and other hazards
nationwide. It has been funded principally over the past 19 years
with $68 million from NSF; $36 million from the State of New York
and $26 million from the Federal Highway Administration. Additional
support comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, other
state governments, academic institutions, foreign governments and
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue
their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate,
graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the
University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American