A Mission Like No Other

If you’ve perused this blog in the past, you know that UC San Diego is home to an unparalleled cadre of structural engineers and test facilities.

They have tested, and are testing, everything from huge bridge columns and blast resistant structures, to wind turbines and even railroad track – yes, railroad track. A hundred and some-odd car freight train derailing due to track failure is not an inexpensive problem, so engineers are looking at track failure modes….Anyway, I digress.

UC San Diego engineers are about to take things up a notch. Actually, if you ask me, quite a few notches – and UCSD-TV will be there all the way.

It’s a mission like no other; a mission to help ensure the safety of a critical element in California’s emergency services infrastructure – hospitals.

Damage to Holy Cross Medical Center due to the Northridge Earthquake. This hospital was initially evacuated due to non-structural damage.

Our UC San Diego engineers are taking their testing exploits to new extremes with this one. While many past tests have looked at purely structural issues in terms of seismic performance, failure modes or load bearing behavior, this test is designed to look at the non-structural performance of a building.

But this is not just any building or any test – it will be the first test ever conducted that will subject a full-scale, completely finished acute care facility to extreme seismic forces.

This five-story structure will have everything found in a typical acute care facility: a surgical suite, an intensive care unit, a working elevator, heating and air conditioners including the ductwork, suspended ceilings, light fixtures, a backup generator, and all the computing and utilities services, piping and conduits found in a working hospital.

You can follow construction progress here.

Why? Well, we Californians know earthquakes, and have always led the way in reducing risks from earthquakes. One of those things we did was enact requirements for hospitals to be able to continue operations during and after a major seismic event. This test will help us find the ways to do that.

Now don’t get concerned about hospitals falling down in a quake – in California hospitals are structurally some of the toughest buildings around. It’s the stuff inside a hospital that takes a beating – all those special features found only in a hospital that get damaged so a hospital becomes just another building to evacuate – just what you don’t want to do when a hospital is needed in a quake event.

Working with the California Seismic Safety Commission UCSD-TV is producing “A Mission Like No Other” so you can understand why Californians are seeking to reduce non-structural damage to hospitals and how we are going to do it.

Oh, and then there is fire. Did I mention the part about fire testing the structure?
We’ll have to pick that up in another blog post.

“A Mission Like No Other” will air on UCSD-TV this December. Until then, check out our archive of engineering programs and stay tuned to this blog for photos, behind the scenes information and more.