Earthquake Simulator Aims to Prevent Future Devastation

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TOKYO, Japan — Earthquake-prone Japan is shaking, but in a good way.

A construction firm has unveiled a new earthquake simulator it hopes will help prevent the sort of death and devastation caused by mega-quakes like the one that struck the country in March 2011.

“This Advanced Earthquake Engineering Laboratory is not merely a research lab for earthquake tremors, but a research base where we will be developing advanced technologies for disaster prevention,” said Mika Kaneko, the general manager of the facility run by construction and civil engineering firm Shimizu Corporation.

The lab’s main features are the two giant shaking platforms. The first, a 43-square-foot structure dubbed the E-Beetle, can hold a structure weighing up to 70 tons and can replicate any sort of earthquake motion. The other, the so-called E-Spider, carries a cabin for people to experience tremors. It also tests other tremor-proof technologies, such as shock-absorbers built specifically for the foundations of buildings.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 quake sparked a devastating tsunami and claimed nearly 16,000 lives. Tokyo sits atop of three different tectonic plates and is especially vulnerable to tremors. The government estimates that another magnitude-7 earthquake is highly likely in the city area within the next 30 years.

As a result of its devastating past, Japan has developed also has one of the world’s most stringent construction design laws next to those in the West Coast of the United States, according to Shimizu's Senior Managing Officer Hiroshi Tojo.

A major concern for civil engineers is that roughly 30 percent of Tokyo’s building were built before the tougher regulations were put in place in 1981.

These are being renovated at a pace of 2 percent per year, Tojo said. He hopes that the new research facility will help provide the solutions that are needed for this this.

“If we use the E-Beetle, we believe we will be able to find answers how to effectively reinforce these old structures,” he said. “It is our mission to figure out how to provide safety to those remaining 30 percent of buildings.”

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