Commission Grantee UC San Diego

Seismic Safety Commission Partners with Government and Private Industry to Keep Us Safe


Cold formed steel (CFS) framed buildings are easier and faster to build and increasingly being used in urban areas for apartments, hospitals, medical buildings and schools. They are less expensive to build and maintain compared with other systems, are lightweight, and manufactured from recycled materials. But, due to limited understanding of their performance under earthquake conditions design engineers and contractors are precluded from constructing mid-rise CFS-framed. Also, the post-earthquake fire performance of CFS-framed buildings above 3-4 stories is unknown, and more information is needed to support code acceptance of such buildings in earthquake-prone areas.

Knowing how these structures respond to seismic events and withstand fire damage is important to the safety of the people who occupy them, and to the economics of those who fund, build and insure these structures. Computer simulations work well when the event response characteristics of the structure are well known, however these materials and designs are relatively new. So, the best way to test is to build one and shake it, burn it and then shake it again.

But this can be expensive, much more so than any single organization would want to or be able to fund.  The Seismic Safety Commission helped fund an effort to build, shake, burn and then shake again a six -story CSF building at UCSD’s massive outdoor shake table.  But it did so working with the Federal Government (HUD) and engaging 16 private sector partners, from manufacturers of the steel, to contracting firms, to insurance companies.  And in addition to UCSD, which has deep experience in earthquake testing of structures the project included senior researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts who are experts in the response of structures to fires.

How did the test building do?  It withstood the shaking and fire, and the structure did not collapse.  A good end to a very rigorous test, and supported by a robust private-public partnership.