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Element 5 - Education & Outreach
Project Manager: Jill Andrews - Caltech (formerly with SCEC)

Appendix 5.1.3 - Engineering Aspects

Engineering Elements in the ShakeZone Earthquake Exhibit

The purpose of this document is to outline the engineering issues to be addressed in the design and implementation of the ShakeZone exhibit. We have divided the engineering issues into two areas. The first relates to the engineering educational content of the exhibit covering man-made structures and personal empowerment while the second relates to concurrent design issues that we feel should be addressed throughout the exhibit planning and development.

Engineering Content

The primary areas of the proposed earthquake exhibit that focus on engineering content are Entry Points 4 and 5 and the shaketable(s). By engineering content we mean exhibit elements that communicate engineering concepts related to the effects of shaking on man-made structures. A preliminary breakdown of topics is as follows:

  • Man-made structures

  • The effects of shaking on structures

  • Buildings and construction techniques

  • How are buildings made safer

  • What individuals can do to improve building safety

In keeping with the global to local theme of the exhibit and the importance of personal empowerment we propose the following philosophy for the detailed development of the engineering content of entry points 4 and 5 and the shake table demonstrations.

  • Emphasize physics principles.

  • Emphasize engineering principles.

  • Emphasize community/government responsibility (codes and retrofitting) and personal responsibility (awareness and preparedness).

  • Emphasize engineering as about shaping and improving the way we live (an attempt to control our environment).

  • Emphasize the application of engineering principles at home.

The idea here is to keep the focus on fundamental principles that people may not be aware of and communicate what individuals can be responsible for. Some example topics corresponding to the above points include the following:

    F=ma (Newton's laws)
    Balance of forces (statics)
    Construction materials and material properties (concrete, steel, wood)
    Structural design features and improvements (trusses, bracing)
    Methods of constraining objects inside buildings (strapping, securing)

With these points in mind, we propose the following outline of the exhibit storyline and its transitions.

Revised Earthquake Exhibit Storyline (Entry points 4 and 5)

Transition from entry point 3 to entry point 4

    Theme: Waves transmit force and motion: shaking = motion. This also represents a transition from earth sciences topics to engineering topics.

Details of entry point 4: How do earthquakes effect buildings and other structures?

    Objectives: Discuss how shaking effects structures and how engineers build structures to withstand shaking.

    Continue global to local theme by showing how an earthquake effects a large populated area full of man-made structures and focusing on structures we commonly use.

    What are structures? Examples of structures? What structures do I use?

    For the Riverside area, the focus should be on freeways and roads, and 1-2 story structures. This is an example of a module that can be changed out to include more or less detail.

    Who builds structures? How do we design better structures?
    Structural Design Issues
    Loading (gravity, wind, rain, earthquakes)
    Material Cost and Availability (concrete, steel, and wood)
    Structural Systems (truss, frame, cable, arch, plates, shells, bracing)
    Engineering Principles
    Balance of forces (activities)
    Material properties (samples)
    Construction techniques (demonstrations with the mini shaketable)

    What are the effects of shaking?
    Stress and fatigue
    Types of failure
    Preventing structural failure
    CODES and retrofitting (definitions)

    Where do I live: Are my buildings safe? How can they be improved?

Transition from entry point 4 to entry point 5

    Theme: where do I live and what else can I do (to gain control)?

Details of entry point 5: How can I help my family prepare for an earthquake?

    Objectives: To communicate what individuals can do BEFORE and DURING an earthquake to ensure their safety.

    Revisit the force and motion theme: a building transmits forces to objects which then move/fall/break.

    Emphasize personal responsibility for items inside the buildings we use.

    Awareness: home hazard hunt, school hazard hunt, office hazard hunt, road hazard hunt.

    What can be done: Applying engineering principles at home (bracing, securing, and planning)

    Evacuation plan: have a safe place to go. Special needs of family members: small children, older relatives, disabled members.

    This is the natural place to transition to the main shake table: What happens during an earthquake when you are prepared and when you are not prepared?

Transition and relation to entry point 6

    Theme: Earthquake aftermath and aftershocks. Some remarks about aftershocks and re-entry into buildings. How to prepare for AFTER an earthquake. Perhaps reverse the global to local theme: work together to ensure the safety of our families, our neighborhood, our community, our city. The key is that we have to work together.

Issues relating to the Shaketables

    Objectives: to demonstrate the effects of shaking

    • on structures and objects
    • on people (what it feels like)

    Mini shaketable: demonstrate the effects of shaking on buildings with and without design improvements.

    Main shaketable: give a sense of what an earthquake feels like and to communicate the prepared and unprepared scenarios.

General recommendations

Keep the focus in entry point 4 on structural engineering issues (do not overburden children with responsibility of home and school retrofitting, the message is that through engineering (applied science) we can improve the strength and safety of our man-made structures)

Keep the focus in entry point 5 on awareness and preparedness (things anyone can do) with the before and during theme.

Keep the focus in entry point 6 on preparedness for after the main earthquake, and coping with aftershocks.

The ideas we have formulated represent a tremendous amount of information. Perhaps we should, in a brief sentence of phrase, describe what message we want to communicate in each entry point.

Additional Activities

The idea of having different types of activities to further explore the topics presented in the main exhibit is especially important in the context of engineering concepts. We feel that while these concepts are not typically covered as part of any curriculum, they are sufficiently intuitive that grade school children can understand them.

Engineering Principles

    Stress and strain
    Failure and fatigue
    Balance of forces
    Materials and material properties
    Structural characteristics (stiffness and flexibility)

Physics principles

    Force and motion: f=ma
    Action and reaction: motion and force transmission
    Solids, liquids, and gases (wave transmission)


Rajan, S. D., Introduction to Structural Analysis & Design, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 2001.

Non-Content Engineering Design Issues

During the design and development of the Shakezone Exhibit, many non-content engineering design issues will have to be addressed. These issues will involve the physical design of the various hardware components that will complete the exhibit. Such components may include display panels, interactive elements, multimedia implementations and the shake table. The purpose of the document (section) is to identify these key issues and to emphasize the need to consider these issues early and throughout the design process.

Human Factors and Universal Design

As with any product that is intended for public use, human factors must be considered in the design of the Shakezone exhibit. These factors should include the characteristics of the target audience in terms of physical strength and size, visual, auditory and tactile response, and behavioral expectancies. Particular consideration of the human factors must be applied in the design of visual displays, auditory displays and controls.

During the design of the Shakezone Exhibit, the human factor issues along with accessibility issues can be addressed by considering the principles of Universal Design. Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The following seven principles of Universal Design have been developed to serve as guide for a wide range of design disciplines including environments, consumer products, and information systems [Connell et al., 1997].

  1. Equitable Use
    The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
    • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
    • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
    • Provisions for safety should be equally available to all users.
    • Make the design appealing to all users.
  2. Flexibility in Use
    The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
    • Provide choice in methods of use.
    • Accommodate right-handed or left-handed access and use.
    • Facilitate the user's accuracy and precision.
    • Provide adaptability to the user's pace.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
    Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
    • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
    • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
    • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
    • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
    • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.
  4. Perceptible Information
    The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
    • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
    • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
    • Maximize "legibility" of essential information.
    • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
    • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.
  5. Tolerance for Error
    The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
    • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
    • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
    • Provide fail-safe features.
  6. Low Physical Effort
    The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
    • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
    • Use reasonable operating forces.
    • Minimize repetitive actions.
    • Minimize sustained physical effort.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
    Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.
    • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
    • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
    • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
    • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

When products, environments or systems are made more accessible to persons with limitations, they are usually easier for more able-bodied persons to use as well. Thus implementing these principles in the design of the Shakezone exhibit will lead to an exhibit that is more accessible, useful, and enjoyable to the most diverse group possible.

Other Design Considerations

There are other general design issues that should be considered throughout the development of the various Shakezone components. Evaluations of designed components should also include the following considerations:


How long will the component function before it must be replaced?


How often must the system be maintained and how long will it take? What skill level will be required for maintenance?


If a component does fail or is damaged, can it be repaired or must it be replaced?


Can the feature be easily cleaned and disinfected?


Have all potential hazards been eliminated or minimized?


Have the various areas of the exhibit been designed with a generic configuration and with common components where possible?

Other relevant issues may include physical space requirements, power requirements, lighting, noise and portability of the various components. All of these issues should be considered throughout the design and implementation of the Shakezone Exhibit in order to ensure that a functional, safe and reliable product is developed.


Connell, B.R. et al. "Principles of Universal Design". April 1, 1997. (Oct. 2000).

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Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering
last updated 03.27.15