Tuesday, December 6, 2016

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Ken Walsh and Eli Espino observe construction activity at the Englekirk Center

Construction Students Build Safer Future

Students and professors oversee the construction of a facility that promises to make strides in earthquake-resistant building.
By Glenn S. Robertson

Graduate students and faculty in San Diego State University’s J.R. Filanc Construction Engineering and Management Program are taking part in research that could have a large impact on how buildings are built in earthquake zones.

The joint project between SDSU, University of California San Diego, Howard University and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute will simulate a series of earthquakes on a full-scale, five-story structure at UCSD’s Englekirk Structural Engineering Center.

The tests, using the world’s largest outdoor shake table, will be the first to specifically focus on the viability of support systems like electricity, water pipes, sprinkler systems and computer systems — during and after an earthquake.

From the ground up

Supervised by Ken Walsh, principal investigator for the project’s construction component and the director of SDSU’s J.R. Filanc Construction Engineering and Management Program, SDSU students supported and oversaw test facility construction.

“There are so many things that can break down during an earthquake, crucial systems like power, plumbing and ventilation, that could be vital to those inside,” said Elias Espino, a construction engineering and management graduate student. “When those systems fail during an earthquake, it could lead to more people being hurt or killed.”

Additionally, non-structural components comprise a large part of the cost of a building, said Espino, so building those components to survive under that kind of stress adds a financial benefit to the research.

The J.R. Filanc Construction Engineering and Management Program's project is just one example of how the university engages the San Diego region, a key initiative of The Campaign for SDSU. Whether it’s supporting programs that contribute directly to San Diego's growth or building academic programs to prepare for the region’s future, SDSU is an important community partner. Learn more about SDSU’s community engagement and how you can contribute.

The facility

Each of the five levels of the construction simulates a different type of office or facility. The first and second floors will mimic a typical office space, while the third will contain IT servers and a host of other computer equipment.

The last two floors will mirror a medical facility, complete with beds and a simulated “blood bank,” as well as associated monitors and specialized hook-ups. The mock hospital will also include a complete surgery suite and intensive care unit.

“The hope is that we can use this work to learn how to better construct not just the building, but also all the systems within the body of the structure,” Walsh said. “We’d like to bring these findings to students and help them enter the construction field more prepared and more capable.”

Additionally, those findings will be applied to more than just skyscrapers and office buildings said Walsh, as universities and libraries could also benefit. As bookcases and many of the fixtures pose a severe hazard during an earthquake, the advancements made at the Englekirk Center could help design a safer construction for bookcases and similar fixtures or better ways to secure them.

Benefit to program, SDSU

The project has also benefited the students within the construction engineering and management program, with four students using the facility as part of their graduate theses. Currently, two graduate students are directly involved in the management of the test structure's construction and installation of the component systems, as well as coordinating with the various industry partners.

The J.R. Filanc Construction Engineering and Management Program, within the College of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, prepares students for a productive engineering career with real-world application and education. Students must attend field trips to construction sites, and the Englekirk Center hosts undergraduate students in that capacity as well.

Facility construction and testing sponsors include a consortium of industry partners and others, such as the:

  • National Science Foundation
  • Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation
  • California Seismic Safety Commission
  • Charles Pankow Foundation

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