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Projects : CUREE-Caltech Woodframe Project

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

Appendix 5.6.1 - August 2000 Update

Video: "The CUREe-Caltech Woodframe Project Update #2: Summer 2000"

Enclosed with this letter is a short (13:31) video, which features footage from the July 11, 2000 shake test and interviews with Bob Reitherman and André Filiatrault. Reitherman gives a succinct overview of the progress to date for the first four Elements of the Project: Testing and Analysis, Field Investigations, Codes & Standards, and Economic Applications. Andrews delivers a short description of activities in the 5th Element, Education and Outreach.

We hope you will find it useful in sharing information about the Project to others as well. If you'd like more copies, please contact the CUREe office.

The "Ultimate Shake:" A Successful Media Event

The CUREe-Caltech Woodframe Project is on the map! On Tuesday, July 11, millions of TV viewers were able to witness the house when it was tested with near-fault shaking recorded by a strong motion seismograph in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in Los Angeles. The UCSD engineers, led by André Filiatrault, used the Rinaldi Station record, which has a peak ground acceleration of almost 1 g and a significant near-fault "pulse" or lunge as well. This was the first time that the house had been fully furnished, with cameras installed to record the effect of strong motion on the building's equipment and contents, such as water heaters, shelving, TVs, bookcases, refrigerators and cabinets. Each type of nonstructural component was installed in pairs: One was anchored, and one was not.

Information from 300 sensors installed inside and outside the house has provided valuable data that Woodframe Project researchers will use to create computer simulations expected to aid in evaluating current design and construction practices. One of the surprise outcomes appears to be the strength of stucco: an earlier test on the bare wood structure revealed that the top of the house swayed back and forth five inches relative to the bottom. In the test on the stuccoed version, the top swayed only one inch. According to John Hall in an interview with the NY Times, architectural finish materials have the potential of providing significant earthquake resistance. This does not mean that all stucco buildings perform well in earthquakes, and there are significant issues of quality control if such materials are to be relied upon. Also, the two-story house model tested at UCSD is above average in other ways: it is a fully engineered, small, building, and the stucco was applied over a fully plywood-sheathed exterior.

More than 350 news stories were generated the day of the event and immediately following by print, radio and television reporters. Interviews were conducted with media reporters featuring John Hall, Bob Reitherman, André Filiatrault, Frieder Seible, and Mark Leonard (CEA). Such a media event requires a significant amount of planning and attention to detail in its execution. The payoff from the Project's point of view is that a vast number of individuals are informed by the news coverage. The Woodframe Project has specialized audiences such as structural engineers or code officials that number in the thousands, but the general public is an audience in the millions that can also benefit from messages that are framed in non-technical terms.

All the major television network news organizations, plus many local news organizations in San Diego and Los Angeles covered the event: CNN and affiliates (hundreds nationwide), Fox News and affiliates, CBS, NBC, ABC World News, Good Morning America and many others. In addition, The Discovery Channel is preparing a story and website scheduled to appear soon.

KNBC and KFWB Radio (Los Angeles metropolitan area) aired stories for several days following. Printed stories ran in the Los Angeles Times (including a front page story the day after the event and a longer, more detailed article in the Business Section, with suggestions on how to prevent damage to your home through structural and nonstructural mitigation efforts); the San Diego Union Tribune; Associated Press State and Local Wire; and the New York Times (including a website,, which also features the video footage captured by USC's Distance Education Network on behalf of the CUREe Woodframe Project Element 5).

Scientific American, Popular Science, and the Chronicle of Higher Education conducted interviews with Project Managers, and articles are scheduled to appear in upcoming issues.

CUREe collaborated with UCSD and USC to conduct a live webcast during the test; Websurfers should go to to view archived footage. In this second live webcasting of an experiment on the house at UCSD, everyone has learned a great deal about to better communicate more widely via the World Wide Web. Once we worked out the various "bugs" associated with viewer capability, we found on July 11th that UCSD had connection problems, which resulted in only about 180 people able to view the live webcast. However, we are successfully streaming a digitized version via a link from the CUREe website to a server at USC, provided by their Distance Education Network.

Results from this and other tests to be done on other woodframe structures will be used to modify designs for new houses and for retrofit of existing buildings.

California Earthquake Authority Funding

The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) Governing Board has recently approved a $300,000 project extending the current FEMA-funded Woodframe Project develop the nation's first standardized claims adjusting guidelines for earthquake damage to woodframe homes. Mark Leonard, spokesman for CEA, said this cutting-edge research is a "giant step forward in helping us better serve our policyholders after an earthquake. For the first time, we will have a scientific and engineering basis for claims adjusting rather than using conjecture and guesswork." The Woodframe Project's scope has been centered exclusively on pre-earthquake mitigation (better design of new construction, retrofitting of existing construction). The CEA funds will allow an efficient and complementary effort to go forward on the post-earthquake problem of how to accurately evaluate damage and the associated needs for repairs. Testing work on two key kinds of woodframe components -- walls and foundations -- will be done. In both cases, there are major issues as to what constitutes significant damage, and how if significant, how it should be repaired.

Other News from Element 5, Education & Outreach

Newsletter, Website: Our printed newsletter will next feature other testing projects underway, and the CUREe website is continuously updated to provide the public with recent information on all the aspects of the Project.

Educational Module: You may recall that we extended the possibility of providing up to $20,000 in Woodframe Project funds to the winner of the PEER competition to develop a graduate student course module on timber engineering. The educational material and web-based product we will be paying for can draw on material included in the graduate student module but would be specifically designed for the design professional. PEER notified Ken Fridley of Washington State University that he will be receiving the PEER funds, so he is the intended recipient now of a CUREe subcontract, once he has a proposal to us that is accepted.

Interactions / plans with Element 3: Codes & Standards: We are working with Element 3 managers to put together a dissemination plan for their report (in progress). Issues under discussion include types of audiences to target; dissemination methods, such as existing groups with education programs; products for the media such as testing footage and a press conference on findings; print and electronic materials such as newsletters, a public booklet that highlights significant findings, etc.

Museum exhibit development: We released an RFP for creation of small scale and large scale models. See the and click on the "Woodframe Museum Display" link. Deadline: August 25, 2000.

Conference Attendance: John Hall and André Filiatrault delivered papers on the Woodframe Project at the World Conference on Timber Engineering in Whistler, Canada, July 31 - August 3, 2000. A display table at the convention is devoted to the Project and is featuring the International Benchmark analysis competition. Statements of interest for that competition are due September 1. Kelly Cobeen will be delivering a paper on the Project at the Structural Engineers Association of California Annual Convention, August 15-19, which is also being held in British Columbia this year in Vancouver. An article on the project is also coming out shortly in the magazine of the American Red Cross. Recently, John Hall, Kelly Cobeen, and Bob Reitherman wrote a letter to the statewide SEAOC newsletter, Plan Review, published in the June edition, commenting on an earlier article that could be construed as dismissing the importance of making the engineering basis of woodframe design more scientific and accurate.

Future Plans: Our final phase of work will center on specific audiences: architects, engineers, code officials, the construction industry, the general public. Each has its own information needs. For each audience, I will also have to work through different sets of existing organizations that already have contacts with these sectors, such as professional associations of structural engineers to reach the engineering audience for example. Many of those contacts are in place, ready to be activated when the Project's findings are completed a year from now. We also need to coordinate the way the Project finally disseminates its findings with State and other agencies. For example, the California Seismic Safety Commission publishes an earthquake guide for homebuyers, the Office of Emergency Services provides hazard reduction information through its website and publications, and so on.

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Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering
last updated 03.27.15