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Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

Shake table's quake simulation to be featured on NBC's "Dateline"

– If you sit down this Sunday evening to watch NBC's "Dateline" show, you may want to fasten your seatbelt. The popular news program will be featuring UC Berkeley's earthquake simulator in an experiment designed to examine the effects of an 8.0 quake on a typical 1930s San Francisco house.

You'll also meet the people who live in the Richmond district dwelling that was replicated for the test. The family will be shown viewing live video of the event, which includes dramatic footage of how their belongings would fare in a real disaster.

The experiment was commissioned in March by NBC, said Khalid Mosalam, UC Berkeley associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. The network was looking for a visual project for the anniversary of the 1906 quake that would also serve to further earthquake research. The project NBC and Mosalam came up with - testing a two-story, furnished house typical of those built in the 1930s and '40s in San Francisco's Richmond district - was also of interest to the city of San Francisco.

The replica house was built at the Earthquake Simulator Laboratory at UC Berkeley's Earthquake Engineering Research Center in Richmond. The central feature of this recently upgraded research facility is a 20' x 20' "shake table" that can simulate many ways the earth can move during earthquakes. The table is capable of testing structures up to 40 feet tall and weighing up to 60 tons.

The two-story test house built over a garage is the first such structure tested on the table. "We had a three-story house on the table about four years ago," Mosalam said. "But that structure was more code compliant for earthquakes, so it was a lot stronger than the current one, which is a replica of houses built before the codes were written."

Mosalam said that he was impressed by the amount of freedom the network gave him on the scientific end of the project. "We suggested two levels of study," he said. "One was to look at the building contents, its furnishings and furniture. For that one, the effect on the structure itself was not the goal."

The first two of the three tests Mosalam ran compared what would happen if the furniture was secured, then unsecured, during a 52-second, 8.0 quake. During these two tests, the house was fit with additional diagonal bracing to ensure that it remained standing. The third test was run without the bracing, to study the effects of the quake on the house itself.

During the tests, more than 70 sensors affixed to the house were collecting data. Mosalam has already written several reports based on the results, but he'll be putting in many more hours this summer before all the analyses are complete.

Does he want people to watch the show on Sunday?

"I think it will be an hour that is well invested," he said. "It will be very useful to watch it - hopefully, people will learn something from it."

"Dateline" will run on KNTV-11 from 7-9 p.m. this Sunday, May 21. Check your local listings for other scheduling.