How do scientists make earthquake-proof buildings?

March, 31 2021
How do scientists make earthquake-proof buildings?

Every year, about 10,000 earthquakes occur in Southern California. It’s a harsh reality that the region is highly active in seismic activity, and a key factor that scientists and vibration consultants must take into account when constructing buildings. These structures are not just architectural marvels; they are the embodiment of cutting-edge science and engineering, designed to withstand the awesome power of earthquakes.

Read on to learn more about how different methodologies are used to make buildings capable of handling an earthquake’s vibrations.

Innovative Techniques for Earthquake Resistance

1) Base isolation

One effective way to prevent shockwaves from traveling through a building is by sitting it on top of flexible pads that create a buffer between the foundation and the ground. That way, when an earthquake strikes, only the base will move, while the larger structure remains unaffected. The pads absorb the vibrations, effectively isolating it from the rest of the building.

Flexible Pads: Engineered from rubber or steel-rubber composites, these specialized pads provide elasticity and resilience. Their composition allows them to absorb seismic shocks efficiently.

Isolating Vibrations: Flexible pads serve as shock absorbers, effectively transforming and dissipating the incoming seismic energy. This prevents destructive vibrations from affecting the building’s structure.

Foundation Separation: By decoupling the building from the ground, flexible pads enable independent movement during earthquakes. This isolation minimizes structural stress and enhances overall seismic resilience.


2) Dampers

Shock absorbers are useful for reducing the magnitude of shockwaves. One method is to use vibrational control devices, or dampers, placed between a column and beam at every level of a building. These dampers are essentially piston heads placed inside a cylinder full of silicone oil. During an earthquake, the building will transfer the energy from the vibrations into the pistons. The pistons push against the oil, dissipating the force of the vibrations by transforming it into heat.

Vibrational Control Devices: Dampers employ piston heads within cylinders filled with specially formulated silicone oil. This dynamic system absorbs seismic forces, mitigating their impact on structures.

Energy Dissipation: During seismic events, the force of vibrations prompts the pistons to push against the viscous silicone oil. This action transforms kinetic energy into heat, dissipating it harmlessly.

Multi-Level Placement: Dampers are strategically positioned throughout a building, often between columns and beams at different levels. This distribution effectively regulates and minimizes building sway during earthquakes.


3) Pendulum power

Another shock absorption strategy is pendulum power. Vibration consultants mainly use this in skyscrapers. A large ball is suspended from steel cables at the top of the building, with a hydraulics system attached. When an earthquake hits, the building will sway from the waves. At that point, the ball will act as a pendulum, swinging in the opposite direction to counteract the vibrations.

Counteracting Sway: In high-rise structures, a massive pendulum, part of the tuned mass damper system, is suspended at the skyscraper’s summit. This pendulum serves to counterbalance and dampen the building’s lateral movements, notably during seismic events.

Opposite Movement: When seismic activity occurs, the pendulum responds swiftly by swinging precisely in the opposite direction to the building’s sway. This counter-motion effectively mitigates oscillations, maintaining structural integrity.

Dynamic Stabilization: The incorporation of a tuned mass damper system dynamically stabilizes skyscrapers. By harnessing the pendulum’s inertia, this technique substantially reduces structural stress, ensuring the building remains secure and upright during earthquakes.


4) Seismic invisibility cloak

A novel way of shielding buildings from vibrations is by creating a “seismic invisibility cloak.” A cloak of 100 concentric plastic and concrete rings is installed below the foundation of the building. As the earthquake travels through the rings, the waves are forced to follow a path of movement through to the outer rings. This reroutes the energy away from the building, where it can then be safely dissipated into the plates in the ground.

Concentric Rings: The seismic invisibility cloak comprises multiple concentric rings, meticulously placed beneath the building’s foundation. These rings create a dynamic barrier against seismic waves.

Energy Diversion: Ingeniously, the cloak redirects the forceful energy of seismic waves as they encounter its concentric rings. This alteration in their trajectory effectively steers them away from the building’s vulnerable structure.

Safe Dissipation: By rerouting seismic energy, the cloak ensures that the redirected forces are harmlessly dissipated into the ground. This controlled dissipation minimizes any adverse structural impact, enhancing overall earthquake resilience.


5) Special Materials

Special Materials enhance structural strength, flexibility, and resistance to lateral forces, allowing structures to withstand intense shaking and protect lives and property during seismic events. Special materials like reinforced concrete with embedded steel, precast concrete, structural steel bracing, and shear walls are essential for earthquake-proof buildings.

Reinforced Concrete: This common material is enhanced by casting steel bars within it. This reinforcement improves tensile strength and ductility, allowing it to bend and deform without breaking during seismic activity.

Precast Concrete Walls: These walls are manufactured off-site and then bolted and welded together. They offer excellent resistance to lateral forces, contributing to earthquake resistance.

Structural Steel Bracing: Diagonal steel braces form a rigid frame within a structure. They are crucial for preventing swaying and lateral distortion. Steel’s strength, flexibility, and light weight make it a vital material for seismic resilience.

Steel Moment Frames: These frames are specifically designed to prevent structural collapse. They achieve this by bending and yielding during seismic shaking, absorbing and dissipating energy.

Concrete Shear Walls: These walls are strategically placed within a building to counteract horizontal earthquake forces. Securely connected to foundations and roofs, they provide essential reinforcement against lateral distortions. Proper distribution of shear walls maximizes structural stability.


6) Other Methods

Earthquake Early Warning Systems:

Early warning systems are vital for providing seconds of advance notice before seismic shaking hits. These networked systems utilize ground motion sensors to detect preliminary tremors caused by compressional waves. Alerts are swiftly issued, enabling people to take protective actions such as gas shutoff and moving to safer locations.

Building Codes and Standards:

The foundation of earthquake-proofing lies in building codes and construction standards. Stringent regulations govern design, materials, and construction techniques, ensuring buildings can withstand seismic forces. These codes are continuously updated based on evolving seismic data and engineering research, with regular building inspections serving as a critical component of enforcement.

In conclusion, the future of earthquake-resistant building design holds great promise. With ongoing research and innovation, we can anticipate buildings that not only survive earthquakes but also minimize damage and protect lives. As new technologies and materials continue to emerge, our ability to create earthquake-proof buildings will only improve, ensuring safer urban environments in earthquake-prone regions. We can help you maximize the productivity and profitability of your projects in Southern California by supporting you with our geotechnical and geological experience. Please find out more about our leading vibration monitoring services here.

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