Science/Technology
10:50 am
Wed February 20, 2013

UB researchers test earthquake vulnerability of NYC buildings

Researchers at the University at Buffalo conducted earthquake simulations Tuesday to test the vulnerability of unreinforced masonry buildings, typical in New York City. 

The experiments were conducted at the UBs Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research. Researchers ran a number of tests to study how well reinforced masonry walls hold up in a quake scenario compared to unreinforced walls.

An unreinforced masonry wall on the left, compared with a reinforced wall on the right.
An unreinforced masonry wall on the left, compared with a reinforced wall on the right.
Credit Ashley Hassett/WBFO News

The tests were crafted to imitate 2011 earthquakes in Virginia and Christchurch, New Zealand, which had magnitudes of 5.8 and 6.3, respectively. 

Researchers built two 14-foot walls: one using brick and mortar typical of 100-year-old brownstones, the same kind of materials that make up roughly 80 percent of NYC buildings, the other retrofitted using techniques typical on the west coast, where there is more seismic activity. 

UB research assistant Maikol Del Carpio says the retrofitted walls held up much better in the various experiments.

"This could have probably killed a person. If someone was walking on the street, the parapet would have fallen down. On the other side [where] the wall was retrofitted using braces...we validated there was no damage to the parapet. So the retrofitted technique was validated, at least for this experiment," Del Carpio said.

Researchers say the goal of the tests is to give engineers reliable tools and models for analyzing structural integrity. UB Ph.D student Juan Aleman says that data being collected can be put to good use by structural engineers. 

"The engineering community doesn't have numerical, computer tools to analyze these types of buildings," said Aleman. "They want to analyze the buildings and see if these buildings will be able to sustain an earthquake, but they don't know how to do it."

Researchers say while New York City is not a high seismic zone, the potential damage from an earthquake is significant due to the city's aging infrastructure and large population.