Live Fire Test at Shopping Mall Examines Structural Vibrations to Predict Structural Collapse

As part of its Research on Structural Collapse Prediction Technology project initiative, USFA and fire engineers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, California) tested the ability of highly sensitive motion detectors to detect pre-collapse building vibrations from May 8-10, 2002, at an abandoned shopping mall in Woodbridge, Virginia. Vibration sensors that give early warning to building collapse could provide firefighters time to escape. These controlled fire tests examined the vibration characteristics of lightweight steel frame building construction, during fires large enough to cause collapse of steel deck roofs.

Under USFA sponsorship NIST and Harvey Mudd researchers used the sensors to secure data on pre-collapse structural vibrations in two previous burn tests: a wood-frame house in Kinston, North Carolina, and a wood-frame warehouse in Phoenix, Arizona.

All three of these structural collapse experiments were part of a two-year research partnership between USFA and NIST.

It is hoped that through this research a methodology could be developed for interpreting the vibration data. A warning device that uses such technology could be attached to burning buildings or incorporated into building safety systems like smoke detectors that could alert firefighters to the potential danger of impending structural collapse.

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