2006 Pacific Southwest Regional Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers draws students from across SoCal and Southwest

By M. Abraham

On March 31, an earthquake measuring magnitude 6.7 on the Richter scale shook student dormitories in Los Angeles. And if the building architects found the shuddering eerily reminiscent of 1994’s Northridge temblor, that’s because the movements from this simulated quake were exactly the same as that frightening natural disaster.

During the 2006 Pacific Southwest Regional Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), students had the chance to test out their scale-model dormitory buildings against the Northridge quake — as replicated by the recently completed “Shake Lab” at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The annual student conference, which ran from March 30 to April 1, was hosted by UCLA Engineering this year and brought nearly 500 civil engineering undergraduates from Southern California, Arizona and Nevada to Los Angeles to engage in tasks that include designing and building an earthquake-safe building, constructing and racing concrete canoes, and erecting a model steel bridge.A key highlight of the conference was the relatively new seismic design challenge — or “Earthquake Shake” — for which teams from seven California schools were selected.

UCLA, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona; California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; California State University, Los Angeles; San Diego State University; University of California, Irvine; and University of California, San Diego, all had student teams competing in the quake competition.

This year’s seismic design challenge was to build a three-story, scale-model wood dormitory that meets specific land size and cost requirements. All of the models were tested on the shake table with ground motions recorded during medium and large earthquakes — with the large one this year mirroring the Northridge quake at its epicenter. The winning building will be the one that satisfies the pre-set design criteria, falls within cost parameters and emerges with the least amount of damage after the “big one” hits, and should be announced at the end of the conference.

Teams from all of the universities have been preparing for the challenge since fall 2005. The students have had four months to complete their designs, from conception to execution.