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Fake Quake Tests US Readiness

File photo: Damage from an earthquake in Hawaii.
by Matt Brown
San Jose CA (AFP) Mar 24, 2006
Walls hit with the power of an 8.0 magnitude earthquake wobbled and shook. Books and papers flew off the shelves. Bowls and plates crashed to the floor. A television, computer and printer shivered ferociously but remained firmly strapped to a wall in testimony to earthquake readiness.

After 30 seconds, the massive temblor stopped on command. An assistant cleaned the mess and prepared the room to recreate the power unleashed by the sudden shift of tectonic plates.

The pinpoint quake in the Silicon Valley city of San Jose on Wednesday was only a simulation, but it underscored the need to be prepared when living in earthquake country.

The enactment took place in an "Earthquake Cottage," a trailer resting on shocks that used a cam engine to twist, torque and thrust the structure in several directions at once.

Its mission was to raise awareness about earthquake safety by giving people a chance to safely experience an earthquake even more powerful than the one that nearly obliterated San Francisco one hundred years ago in April.

Built by Safe-T-Proof, an earthquake retrofitting company, the cottage shook riders, who were required to wear helmets, and jostled them from their seats as objects rained down on their heads.

"Knowing it was in a truck and not real, it wasnt so bad," said shaken and somewhat stirred Claire Lackstone of Montreal, Canada.

It was her first earthquake experience.

"To imagine your whole house shaking like that, now thats scary," Lackstone said. "I knew this was coming, but a real earthquake catches you off guard."

Michael Essrig, Safe-T-First CEO and inventor of the Cottage, said he came up with the idea after a deadly earthquake that struck under the Los Angeles-area city of Northridge in 1994.

"After the Northridge quake, I felt we needed to keep peoples attention going toward earthquake safety," Essrig told AFP. "After a while, people start to lose interest."

Some of the earthquake veterans treated to the ground-shaking experience were entertained instead of traumatized. Daniel Villareal has lived through the 1989 San Francisco earthquake as well as the 1994 quake.

"It was more like a fun carnival ride," said Daniel Villareal, who lived through the Northridge temblor as well as the devasating and deadly Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco in 1989.

"I wanted to yell, Ye ha! like I was on a mechanical bull."

Essrig said his company rents the Earthquake Cottage for 2,000 to 3,000 dollars (US) a day. He has sold two of the inventions to the state governments of Alaska and Utah.

"It still makes me sick," Essrig said of the simulation. "People are a little bit surprised. It shakes them up a bit, no pun intended."

The Cottage was put to use in San Jose on Wednesday to highlight retrofitting being done to make a hospital more safe in earthquakes.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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