Engineers at UC San Diego have begun testing a five-story hospital built atop a moving platform that models some of the fiercest earthquakes ever seen, in an effort to develop a building that will be unaffected by tremors. The tests are the culmination of a $5 million, three-year project, which has resulted in the construction of the 80-foot-tall model hospital fitted with hundreds of sensors, cameras, and other technology. The structure's built on rubber bearings — a commonly used technique in Japan — and is the first time that the approach has been tested on a full-size building in the USA, though the bearings will later be removed and the building shaken to destruction. It will also be exposed to fire to see how it copes under the utmost stress.
The hospital incorporates 250 accelerometers to detect the sharpness of the quake on different levels of the building, as well as 280 potentiometers that measure relative changes in position between components of the structure. There are also strain gauges in the metal structure, load cells to measure stress, GPS receivers to measure the hospital's overall movement, and cameras to monitor the integrity of the non-structural elements of the building. Anna Caballero, secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency sees the project as hugely important. "We have earthquakes on a regular basis," she said. "The one place you need to be in really good shape are the hospitals."