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CNN Today

Project Quakes House for Study

Aired July 11, 2000 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: What happens to a house during a massive earthquake? was the subject of an unusual test last hour in California. Researchers mounted a full-sized furnished home on a giant platform, then shook it with some devastating force of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in the Los Angeles area.

CNN's Greg LaMotte joins us from San Diego now, with more on how and why.

And, Greg, I know you can relate to the visuals.

GREG LAMOTTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can, and Kyra, you being a Southern California native, I would imagine that you're probably glad you're living in Georgia right now after what you and I both witnessed here in Southern California about an hour ago.

This two-story wood-framed house was subjected to 6.7 earthquake as part of study being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in hopes of helping architects better design more earthquake- resistant homes and help insurance adjusters better understand earthquake damage.

Joining me now is Andre Filiatraut, he is the principle investigator for this project.

First of all, why did you choose the '94 Northridge quake to mimic?

ANDRE FILIATRAUT, PROFESSOR OF STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING, UCSD: Well, the project focuses on the performance of wood-framed buildings in California. And the record we selected this morning was recorded during the Northridge earthquake, in a renowned (ph) recording station, very close to the epicenter of the ground motion of the earthquake. And it's one of the most intense ground motions that was recorded in California. So we wanted to show or present an upper bound or use an upper bound of ground motion to see how a wood-framed building would behave under such a large earthquake.

LAMOTTE: This house is sitting on a quake plate that moves back and forth that mimics these earthquakes, 6.7. We were told that this house has been tested 30 or 40 times prior to this, over the past five months. Could that testing have impacted the results of today's test?

FILIATRAUT: Not really, because between each test phase or each time we were testing a different structural configuration, we would actually repair or even more rebuild the house. So we have local contractors coming in and essentially removing all the structural components, the walls, the studs, and so on; and bringing back the structure to its initial state of lateral load resisting capacity. So, each time we were starting with a new structure.

LAMOTTE: This house has stucco on the outside today for its test. You're telling me earlier that you tested it a few weeks ago without the stucco, what happened then?

FILIATRAUT: Well, we were quite surprised this morning. We when we tested this configuration a couple of weeks ago, without stucco, we had a lot more damage than we saw today. So definitely, just by looking at a structure after the earthquake, it seems that the influence of wall finish material is significant on the seismic response of wood-frame construction. And I think that's a surprising result. Because the thought is that these components do not act as structural elements, they're just cracks and basically have no influence. And I think we saw today, even during this very large ground shaking, the house performed very well, mainly due to the stucco or wall finish material.

LAMOTTE: Given what I saw today, I'm certainly going to return to my own home and look around in terms of those things that can fall. Because some of the things that were part of quake test today were bolted to the ground and other things weren't. And those things that weren't seemed to cause the most damage.

FILIATRAUT: That's right, we had two goals today: one was obviously a scientific goal, looking at a structural response; but we also had an educational element, and that's why we fully furnished a house. And all the components you saw inside the house were paired. So one, properly anchored, another one unanchored. And you saw the big difference. I mean, probably the most important example is the water heater. We saw the unanchored water heater completely turn over during the earthquake, which, of course, is a major fire hazard. But the anchored one performed very well.

So, I think it's a good lesson that you have to prepare before the earthquake. Preparedness is the most important thing. You cannot really react during the earthquake when you saw all the violence and the shaking. And a very few pulses, in a very short time, all the energy was released. And you really can do very little during the shaking. But if you're prepared before then, then you can really minimize the damage and potential for injuries.

LAMOTTE: How soon will this information from today's test be doled out to those in the construction industry, for instance?

FILIATRAUT: Well, the procedure we're following is within the CURE/Caltech Wood Frame Project, we have a complete element dedicated to building codes and standards. And the way we proceed is we are going take all this information, and with all the other tasks, and these engineers have to synthesize this information and write it up in a way that it could be presented to building code committees. And eventually be incorporated into building codes to better build the wood-frame structure for next time.

LAMOTTE: Thank you very much, principle investigator for this project. A 6.7 earthquake that we witnessed, it was sort of bone- chilling to watch given the fact I live in Southern California along with my colleagues here. And Kyra, I'm glad you're in Georgia now.

PHILLIPS: And I was just going to say, why don't you come join us here in Atlanta.

LAMOTTE: Be happy to.

PHILLIPS: Greg LaMotte, all right, thanks for that report.

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