Subscribe free to our newsletters via your
. Earth Science News .

Earthquake Damage Can Impact Building Fire Safety Performance
by Staff Writers
Worcester MA (SPX) Mar 13, 2013

Flames shoot from the five-story test building during WPI's post-earthquake fire tests.

Damage to building structural elements, elevators, stairs, and fire protection systems caused by the shaking from a major earthquake can play a critical role in the spread of fire and hamper the ability of occupants to evacuate, and impede fire departments in their emergency response operations. These are among the conclusions of a groundbreaking study of post-earthquake building fire performance conducted in 2012 by researchers in the Department of Fire Protection Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI).

"When the ground stops shaking after a major earthquake, the damage may have just begun," said Brian Meacham, associate professor of fire protection engineering at WPI and principal investigator for the post-earthquake fire study.

"Historically, post-earthquake fires have been as devastating if not more devastating, than the seismic events that preceded them. In fact, the largest peacetime urban conflagrations (in San Francisco in 1906 and in Tokyo in 1923) were post-earthquake fires. More recently, fire caused significant damage following the 1995 Kobe, Japan, earthquake."

While the danger of widespread quake-related fires is well-known, much less is known about how earthquakes affect the ability of individual buildings to withstand fire or how building fires evolve and spread in the minutes and hours after a quake strikes, Meacham said.

"Although considerable research has been undertaken with respect to the performance of structural systems in quakes, research aimed at understanding and quantifying the performance of nonstructural systems and post-earthquake fire performance of buildings has been severely lacking."

To help close that knowledge gap, WPI spent last year participating in an unprecedented study of the effects of earthquakes and post-earthquake fires on a full-scale building. Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and a host of industrial partners, and led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), the study centered on a five-story building constructed atop the world's first large outdoor, high-performance shake table, located at the Englekirk Structural Engineering Center at UCSD. A principal focus of the study was the performance of critical facilities, including hospitals and data centers.

The building was outfitted with a working elevator, a full-size interior staircase, heating, ventilating and air conditioning system components, electrical equipment, fire protection systems, and a mock medical suite, intensive care unit, medical storage room, server room, and residential space.

The third floor was configured for fire testing, including complete partition walls and ceiling systems, firestop materials at joints and through partitions, a fire door, a fire sprinkler system, and a smoke detection system.

The researchers subjected the building to a series of simulated earthquakes, ranging from 6.7 on the Richter scale (the magnitude of the 1994 quake in Northridge, Calif.) to 7.9 (representing the 2002 earthquake in Denali, Alaska), while a team of engineers from UC San Diego monitored the building's performance through more than 500 channels of data from a wide range of sensors.

After each simulated earthquake, Meacham and his student researchers entered the building to document the state of the active and passive fire systems and to conduct pressure tests to determine if the shaking compromised the integrity of the third-floor rooms, possibly creating openings that could allow smoke and flames to move between compartments.

After the seismic testing was complete, the WPI team conducted a series of six live fire tests in four spaces on the third floor. They ignited pans of heptane, a liquid fuel that burns hot enough to simulate a fully engaged compartment fire. Using temperature probes and video cameras, the researchers assessed how damage from the simulated earthquakes affected the ability of the active and passive fire protection systems to contain fires and prevent the spread of smoke.

Here are some of the impacts on fire and life safety systems that Meacham and his team documented following the largest earthquake motion and post-earthquake fire tests:

+ Structural damage on the second and third levels was significant; while the building didn't collapse, it had to be shored up to support gravity loading prior to the fire testing.

+ Damage to the building's interior and exterior wall and ceiling systems created openings through which smoke and flames could spread; debris from the walls and ceilings became obstacles that would have hampered the evacuation of occupants or the movements of firefighters.

+ A number of doors were unable to be opened or closed (open doors allow fire to spread; stuck doors can cut off escape routes or hinder the movements of first responders).

+ Access to the upper floors was cut off when the staircase became detached from the landing and distortion of the elevator doors and frame on some levels made the elevator unusable. During the fire tests, smoke and hot gasses entered the elevator shaft through the open doors, spreading smoke to other floors and raising temperatures to dangerous levels.

+ Most of the active and passive fire protection systems, including the sprinkler system, the heat-activated fire door, fire dampers, and fire stop materials, performed well.

"We are pleased with what we were able to learn in this initial full-scale test of post-earthquake fires," Meacham said. "Through this research, we have begun to build a base of knowledge that will allow us to design more resilient buildings and building systems, and provide better protection to people, property, and mission. But there is much more to do and a lot more we can learn in subsequent studies."

Meacham said he would like to conduct additional laboratory and large-scale studies that will broaden the base of knowledge, encompassing, for example, different construction techniques and different glazing systems; that will gather additional types of information, including heat flux, flow velocity, and visual records of smoke movement and fire growth; and that will compare fire performance before and after earthquake damage.

Read the complete report on the post-earthquake fire tests and learn more about this research project here.


Related Links
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Bringing Order To A World Of Disasters
A world of storm and tempest
When the Earth Quakes

Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

NASA Wallops Recovery Continues from Hurricane Sandy
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Mar 11, 2013
Hurricane Sandy came ashore in northern New Jersey Oct. 29, 2012, and as the powerful storm made its way along the East Coast it brought damage to NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va. The Wallops Shoreline Protection Project has been managing the restoration efforts and released before and after photos of the shoreline. At 8 a.m. EDT on Oct. 29, 2012, the National Hurrican ... read more

Earthquake Damage Can Impact Building Fire Safety Performance

India offers $532 million to states hit by drought, floods

Satellite underpins Libyan redevelopment

Fukushima status little improved

Aspirin may lower melanoma risk

NIST quantum refrigerator offers extreme cooling and convenience

Researchers Solve Riddle of What Has Been Holding Two Unlikely Materials Together

Star-shaped waves spotted in shaken fluid

Aging sewers impacting urban watersheds

Asia-Pacific facing water crisis: ADB

It's only natural: Lawrence Livermore helps find link to arsenic-contaminated groundwater

Four shark species win international trade protection

Rivers flowing under Greenland ice traced

The making of Antarctica's hidden fjords

Global warming will open unexpected new shipping routes in Arctic, UCLA researchers find

Glaciers will melt faster than ever and loss could be irreversible warn scientists

US farm land prices surge despite drought

Argentina's potash dream at risk from Vale

Thousands of dead pigs found in Shanghai river

Delayed EU phosphorus plans coming soon

Japan pays for tsunami cleanup on Canadian coast

Japan marks second tsunami anniversary

California quake revives Big One jitters

Breaking the rules for how tsunamis work

Sudan, South Sudan agree new timeline to restart oil

China congratulates Kenyatta over election win

Poll leaves Kenya still bitterly divided

South Sudan, Sudan say pulling troops from tense border

New study validates longevity pathway

Siberian fossil revealed to be one of the oldest known domestic dogs

Kirk, Spock together: Putting emotion, logic into computational words

After the human genome project: The human microbiome project

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement