SC Statehouse Has Earthquake System to Protect Building and Peop - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

SC Statehouse Has Earthquake System to Protect Building and People

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When the 4.1 magnitude earthquake happened in Edgefield, S.C. Friday night, it was felt as far away as Charlotte and Atlanta. But security officers working at the South Carolina Statehouse reported they didn’t feel anything. That’s because the building has an earthquake-protection system to protect the building itself and anyone inside.

When the Statehouse was undergoing extensive renovations from 1995 to 1998, lawmakers decided to put in the system of about 200 “base isolators”, which are 8-inch tall, 36-inch diameter “shock absorbers” made of alternating layers of steel and rubber. Workers dug under the foundation of the Statehouse, poured new footings, and installed the base isolators between the base of the building and the new footings in the ground.

Jeff Klinar, who was the lead engineer for the project, says, "During an earthquake the isolators will move, the bottom of them will move and the top will stay fairly the same location, reducing the amount of force or movement applied to the building."

The system cost about $11 million. Project architect Mike Frick says the reason lawmakers put it in was pretty simple.  He says, "Verne Smith was the senator from Greer that was the chairman of the Statehouse Committee, and he said we have school children in here all the time. They visit as part of their curriculum, to visit the Statehouse every spring. And he said we don't want to have an earthquake and have the dome collapse on these school children, so we want to make it safe."

He says at the time the system was installed, the SC Statehouse was the only building east of the Mississippi that had it. He doesn’t know if there are any more now, but the systems are much more common in California and Japan. Utah’s State Capitol building has a similar system.

Frick says he thinks the money was well spent, in potentially saving lives and the building itself.

"It's almost irreplaceable,” he says. “I mean, you don't have the craftsmen today that could build those granite walls, and all the artwork and so forth that is in the building. So it's not only the building it's preserving and the lives of people in the building if they were there when the earthquake happened, but it's all the memorabilia and so forth that is in the Statehouse as well."

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