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UCSD Seismic Research on Building Nonstructural Components

From the outside, the five-story multi-use building at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) looks like many others. This structure, however, is unique. It has been subjected to numerous earthquake simulations providing researchers a better understanding of the impact of a seismic event and subsequent fire on the nonstructural components and systems (NCSs) inside. The state-of-the art Network of Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) facility at UCSD allowed researchers to simulate dynamic forces exerted during an earthquake. For over six years leading researchers, engineers and product manufacturers from a variety of industries have worked together on this landmark research project.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation, as well as public and private stakeholders. The purpose was to understand how nonstructural components and systems interact with a building and with each other during an earthquake. Additionally, researchers evaluated the post-earthquake fire performance of critical systems. A full range of NCSs including a functioning passenger elevator, piping, sprinklers, HVAC, interior walls, suspended ceilings, cladding systems and building content as well as both passive and active fire systems were installed for evaluation.


Hilti’s involvement in the project started in the conceptual phase. In 2006, Hilti researchers had just concluded collaboration with the University of California, San Diego on anchored pipe seismic tests in a seven-story structure. The research team realized that there was a much larger opportunity and need to study the interaction of nonstructural components and building systems, as well as post-earthquake fire protection system performance.

Testing a complete building system at full scale under earthquake and fire loads, provides Hilti a unique opportunity to see what happens when all the systems are connected together. For example, the pipe system is supported by a strut and anchorage system which is protected with firestop as it penetrates a fire-rated wall. By approaching the NCS at the system level, Hilti researchers and engineers will be able to see how our products work together across the system. Data collected from this project will allow us to validate our predictions based on current building code methodologies and from in-house test results obtained at Hilti’s research and development facilities around the world.

Below is a summary of the testing sequence that was performed on the five-story building:

Phase 1 - Base Isolator Tests

The first series of earthquake tests evaluated the effectiveness of base isolators to reduce the impact of a seismic event on a structure.

Phase 2 – Fixed Foundation Tests

For the second series of earthquake simulations, the base isolators are removed and the building foundation is fixed to the shake table platen. The building is subjected to the full impact of several seismic events. This configuration is most common in today's structures.

Phase 3 – Post Earthquake Fire Performance

After the second round of earthquake tests, a building fire was simulated to evaluate the performance of various fire protection systems within the building after a seismic event.
Hilti is committed to the industries we serve. By actively participating in high-impact research like the Building Nonstructural Component Systems project, Hilti will continue to help industry professionals by developing better products and supporting better design codes which will result in building even safer infrastructure.