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The University of Southampton

Nepali school wall recreated in Southampton to innovate engineering solutions for earthquakes

Published: 1 June 2021
Young students in Nepal
International research is enhancing the seismic safety and resilience of schools in Nepal.

Structural engineers at the University of Southampton have constructed a full-scale replica of a Nepali school wall to assess new repair and retrofit techniques that could protect future generations from earthquakes.

The three-metre-high wall is part of an international research programme finding ways to make buildings more secure in low-to-middle income countries. 
Nepal is a highly seismic region and experienced strong earthquakes in April and May 2015 that left around 3.5 million people homeless. Collapsing buildings greatly increased the fatalities which totalled nearly 9,000 people. 
The Seismic Safety and Resilience of Schools in Nepal (SAFER) project, led by the University of Bristol, is uniting international academic and industry partners to help Nepali decision-makers plan for and react to another major earthquake. 
University of Southampton engineers have designed a realistic testing campaign tailored to the construction characteristics of school buildings in Nepal. The first masonry wall, located in the Large Structures Testing Laboratory (LSTL) of the UKCRIC National Infrastructure laboratory, will undergo experimental testing from now through the summer.

Nepali school wall replica
The 5m by 3m replica wall has been constructed in the LSTL

Dr Mohammad Mehdi Kashani, Southampton SAFER lead investigator, says: “The combination of poor construction and high seismicity can impose a huge risk on people living in Nepal. We are building a deeper understanding of structural damage patterns by studying experimentally and verifying numerically the cumulative damage under realistic mainshock and aftershock sequences, an issue that has never been studied to this extent.

“Innovative repair and retrofit techniques will then be tested to assess and optimise their efficiency through an additional experimental set. Refined and simple solutions will be tested, co-produced and documented in the form of guidelines along with our Nepali partners.”

The SAFER project is funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Global Grand Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Another strand of the international research is to investigate a low-cost option for buildings to be built upon sliding surfaces that would vastly improve their safety during an earthquake. SAFER engineers are also developing a phone app that lets local engineers identify at-risk schools and make them safer.

The UKCRIC National Infrastructure Laboratory on Southampton’s Boldrewood Innovation Campus represents an investment of £48m as part of the UK’s Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC).

The facility houses five engineering laboratories including the LSTL’s 30 x 15 m strongfloor, which hosts single and double-storey facilities for testing structures, components and materials at a range of scales.

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