Travelogue: Gaining hands-on understanding through exhibits

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Open Hazards provides people all over the world with online information about earthquake hazards, and it’s all free to site visitors and members. We hope you’ll return often to the site to gain a better understanding of how earthquake hazards might affect you and your family, and to learn more about what you can do to avoid the negative impact from a damaging event that could strike where you live.

After surfing our site, using its tools, reading and posting comments to our blogs, and following some of the links we provide, you might want to try an “up close and personal” experience. You and your family members can learn more about the effects of earthquakes on our buildings and our environment by visiting public exhibits in museums or science centers. A few I’ll talk about in this and future blog entries have wonderful, interactive displays and programs on earthquakes, their impact on the built environment, and how engineers and builders are working to make our structures safer.

If you travel for either business or pleasure, think about taking a side trip for a couple of hours to experience a more “hands on” approach to increasing your understanding the global earthquake hazard. Some of them are in the U.S., some are in Asia, some are in Europe or other parts of the world. I’ll be covering more in future blogs, but I’d like to start with three that offer some fascinating approaches to learning about earthquakes.

One of the most densely populated and earthquake-prone areas of the world is the Los Angeles area in California, where I was born and lived most of my life. The California Science Center has a section of its Creative World exhibit area dedicated to structures, and visitors learn about the science behind construction and can explore how structures are built. The exhibit has a mini “shake table” (it’s just what it sounds like – a shake table moves back and forth and up and down in short, quick movements, to simulate an earthquake). Visitors can build their own structures to see if they would survive the shaking. The exhibit also has an “Earthquake Experience,” where people can feel the shaking of an earthquake, and also learn how to prepare for a real one. 

If you live in or travel to Japan, a destination you don’t want to miss is the Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution in Kobe. A four-story building sheathed in glass (and extremely earthquake resistant) was built to house the museum, which commemorates the Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake of January 17, 1995. Full-scale (life size) dioramas immerse visitors in an environment that recreates the aftermath of the quake that took the lives of over 6,000 people, most of them from Kobe. The estimated damage from the magnitude 6.8 earthquake in US dollars was $102.5 billion. The exhibit provides an unforgettable experience that leave visitors with a profound appreciation for the dangers posed by earthquake hazards.

With the increased earthquake activity in China, a truly provocative and timely exhibit can be experienced by visiting Tongji University, State Key Laboratory for Disaster Reduction in Civil Engineering, in Shanghai. The University is a center for engineering education and research, and there’s a large program in earthquake engineering there. On the campus of the university, detailed scale models of tall building (skyscraper) designs that have been tested on an earthquake shake table are kept outdoors. Some of the models are over 30 feet in height, and the landscaped area looks like a scale-model city. You can see a photo of the city by downloading a free monograph published by CUREE, “Building Bridges Between Civil Engineers and Science Museums,” by Robert Reitherman, Thalia Anagnos and Wendy Meluch. The photos are on page 124.

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