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PerformanceofPrecastStructuresunderSeismicLoading
TylerA.Poff,B.A.E.,PennState2014

TableofContents

KeyWords
Precast,Seismic,Earthquake,Connections,Detailing

PerformanceofPrecast
Structuresunder
SeismicLoading
KeyWords
Introduction

Introduction

SeismicEffects
CodeProvisions

Precastconcreteisastructuralsystemformedbyusingmoldstoformandcasta
concretememberinacontrolledenvironment.Oncetheconcreteiscured,itisthen
shippedtotheconstructionsiteandhoistedintoplace.Bydoingthis,concreteis
curedproperlyunderthesupervisionofprofessionalsandthespeedofconstructionis
increased.Whileprecasthasmanyadvantagesinconstruction,therearealsomany
areaswhereitdoesnotperformaswellasotherstructuralsystemsunlessspecial
careistaken.Onemajorareawhereprecastconcretedoesnotperformaswellas
someotherstructuralsystemsiswithseismicloading.
Duetopoorlybehavingprecaststructuresduringearthquakesthroughouttheworld,
precastisviewedasapoorperformingstructureforresistingearthquakes.While
historically,precaststructureshavenotfaredwellagainstearthquakes,ifpropercare
istakenprecaststructurescanperformquitewellinseismicregions.Manyofthe
earthquakerelatedprecastfailuresthroughouthistoryhavecomefrompoordesign,
deficientdiaphragmaction,inadequatedetailing,and/ordeformationissues(Sauter).

SeismicEffects

StructuralDetailing
IsolationSystems
FailedPrecast
Structuresunder
SeismicLoading
CaliforniaState
UniversityParking
Garage
1999Kocaeli
Golcuk&Duzce
BoluTurkey
Earthquake
2012Emilia
Romagna
Earthquake
LessonsLearned

Bibliography
Whenabuildingexperiencesforcesduringanearthquake,groundwavescreateinertial
forceswhichtakeabuildingthatisinequilibriumandmovethebase.Theseseismic
forcesgobacktoNewton'sSecondLawofMotion,wheretheforceexperienced(F)isequaltomass(M)multipliedby
theacceleration(A)orbetterknownasF=MA.Forabuilding,themassthatexperiencesthisaccelerationisequalto
theoverallweightofthebuilding.Thusingeneral,heavierstructuressuchasprecastexperienceincreasedseismic
loadsduetohigherbuildingweight.Theaccelerationthatabuildingexperiencesduringaanearthquakeismeasured
withregardtotheaccelerationduetogravity(g),whichtakesplaceoverafractionofasecondbeforethebuilding
experiencesanaccelerationinadifferentdirection,suddenlychangingthebuildingsmovement[Figure1].Duringa
reasonableearthquake,wavesfromgroundvibrationscreateaccelerationsaround0.2g'sinthebuilding,whichis
approximatelyequivalenttoturbulenceonaplane.Thisaccelerationappliedtoabuildingovertime,exertssignificant

stressesonthebuilding,andcanweakenthestructureleadingtoareductioninseismicresistance(Arnold).

Watch an earthquake simulation test

Figure1:Simulationofastructureunderseismicloading.(VideoCredit:KCRANews)

Onceseismicloadsenterabuilding,theforcesarethendistributedthroughouttothelateralresistanceelements
throughoutthebuildingbyarigiddiaphragm,makingconnectionsinprecastdiaphragmsextremelyimportantsothat
theloadscanbeproperlydistributedtotheelements.Oncetheloadsentertherigiddiaphragms,elementstakea
percentageoftheloadsbasedonitsrelativestiffnesscomparedtootherlateralcomponentswithinthestructure.
Sincealltheelementsaretiedintoarigiddiaphragm,theywilldeflectthesameamountcausingthemorerigid
elementtotakemoreload.Therefore,ifimportantmembersinthelateraldesignareconnectedincorrectlyor
damaged,itincreasesthechancesofacompletecollapseduetoearthquakesabilitytofindtheweakelementsinthe
lateralsystem(Arnold).
Duetomanydifferentfactors,theseismiceffectsduetotheshakingtheseismicforcesinabuildingareoftentimes
amplified.Oneoftheseamplificationfactoristhequalityofthesoilsupportingthestructure.Withsoftsoils,the
amountofshakingexperiencedbyabuildingcanbeamplifiedbyupto1.5to6timestheamounttheisexperienced
bytherockbelow.Therefore,areaswithsoftsoils,damageduetoearthquakestendstobemorecommon.This
phenomenonwasprevalentwhenthe1906SanFranciscoearthquakeswasreviewed.Mapsweredevelopedtoshow
theamountofdamagethatbuildingsexperiencedcomparedtothesoilconditionsshowingthatstructureswithsoft
soilsexperiencedmoredamage(Arnold).
Seismicloadingcanalsobeamplifiedduetothenaturalperiodofthebuildingandtheperiodoftheseismicwaves.
Since,allobjecthavearatethetheymovebackandforth,abuildingwilltypicallyswayatafrequencyofits'natural
period.Theperiodofabuildingvariesmainlydependingontheheightofthebuildingalongwithotherfactorssuchas
thestructuralsystem,materials,andgeometricproportions.Thenaturalperiodofabuildingcanrangefrom0.1
secondsforaonestoryto7.0secondsinasixtystorybuildingasshowninFigure2.Onceabuildingundergoes
seismicloading,its'naturalperiodmayalsochangeduetostructuraldamage(Arnold).Withprecastconcrete
structures,thestructuremayexperiencecrackingduetothestressescausingthebuildingtobecomelessstiff,which
increasesthebuildingsperiodduringvibrations.

The
ground
on
which

Figure2:Expectednaturalperiodofbuildingsbasedonheight.(PhotoCredit:Fema.gov,ChristopherArnold)
structuressitonalsohaveanaturalperiodatwhichitvibratesatduringanearthquake.Thesevaluestypicallyfall
between0.4and2seconds,dependingonthestiffnessofthesoilthatispresentonsite.Hardergroundsuchasrock
experiencelowernaturalperiodsthansoftsoils.Whentheperiodofthegroundcoincideswiththesameperiodofthe
structurecausingresonancebetweenthetwo.Thusamplifyingtheaccelerationsthatthestructureexperiencesduring
seismicactivity.Oftentimes,whenthenaturalfrequenciesofabuildingandthegroundaresimilartooneanotherthe
buildingwillexperienceits'greatestamountofdamage.Buildingresponseamplificationwasseeninthe1985
earthquakeinMexicoCity.Eventhoughthebuildingwasover250milesawayfromthecenteroftheearthquake,the
softsoilscausedbuildingsbetween6and20storiestoresonateatsimilarperiodsasthegroundcausingsignificant
damage.Therefore,inareaswithsoftsoils,itisbesttodesignshortstiffbuildings(Arnold).
Eventhoughstandardshavebeendevelopedtodetermineseismicloads,buildingsoftentimesareexposedtoforces
greaterthanthosethataredesignedfor.Eventhoughcountlessstructureshaveexperiencedforcesthataregreater
thanwhattheweredesignedfor,manysurvivedwithminimaldamagetothebuilding.Thisisduetoforceanalysisnot
beinganinexactsciencewhichoftentimesisextremelyconservative.Duetothis,thebuildingistypicallystronger
thanthecalculateddesignstrengths.Thishappensduetonotincluding,componentssuchaspartitions,inanalysis,
aswellasengineersoftentimesassumingthatbuildingmaterialsareactuallyweakerthantheyareinreality.Even
withbrittlematerialssuchasprecastconcrete,reinforcingisaddedtoaddductilitytothestructure.Thuscreatingthe
abilityforthebuildingtodeformandtakelargerloadsbeforecompletefailureoccurs.Therefore,forastructuretofail
duringseismicactivity,typicallyitwasdetailedincorrectly,orextremelyunderdesigned(Arnold).

CodeProvisions
The2002versionofACI318wasthefirsteditiontoincludecodeprovisionsfordesigningprecaststructuresinhigh
seismicareas.Therefore,precaststructurescouldonlybedesignedassumingthatthestructureactedasa
monolithicpouredconcretestructureintermsofstrengthandtoughness.Asprecaststructuresbecamemorepopular
throughouttheUnitedStates,thePrecastSeismicStructuralSystems(PRESSS)Programwasdevelopedto
establishrecommendationsfordesignengineerstousewhendevelopingprecaststructuresisseismicregions.
Throughmultipleresearchteams,advancementwasmadeforthesestructurestogivedesignersdirectionin
developingprecaststructureswithinseismiczones.Fromtheadvancements,theAmericanConcreteInstitute(ACI)
hasadoptedcodesfordesigningprecaststructuresinearthquakeproneareas.ThesecodescanbefoundinChapter
21ofthecurrentcode,ACI31811(Cleland2014).
EventhoughcodesarebeginningtobeadoptedintoACI318forprecaststructuresinseismicregions,theyarestill
vague.ManyofthecodesfoundinChapter21referringtoprecaststructuressaythatthestructuresshouldfollowthe
samedesigncodesasacastinplaceconcretesystem.Iftheprecaststructuresarenotmeetingthecodessetout
forcastinplacestructuresinACI318,theymustsatisfyrequirementssetoutinACI374.Theserequirements

include:(a)detailsand(b)materialsusedintestsspecimensshallrepresentthoseusedinthestructure,andthe
designprocedureusedtoproportionthetestspecimensshalldefinethemechanismusedtoresistgravityand
earthquakeeffectsandshallestablishacceptancevaluesforsustainingthatmechanism(ACI3182001).

StructuralDetailing
Detailingofprecaststructureswithinhighseismicregionsisofutmostimportance.Withinprecaststructures,itis
importanttohavestructuralredundancyandjointswithcontinuitytoredistributestressesandkeepthestructure
intact.Theseissuesalongwithfailedconnections,detailinginefficienciesandshoddyworkmanshiphaveledtomany
precastbuildingfailures.Throughresearch,ithasbeenfoundthatawelldesignanddetailedprecaststructurecan
performadmirablyduringlargeearthquakes(Sauter).

Whendesigningaprecaststructureforaseismiczone,
themostimportantdetailistheconnectionbetweenthe
floordiaphragm.Tobeabletoredistributetheloadsto
thelateralforceresistingelements,thediaphragm
needstoactasamonolithicmember.Therefore,the
connectionsbetweenadjacentprecastmembersmust
tiealloftheelementstogethertoprovidethe
redistribution.Whiletherearemanywaysofdoing
this,themostefficientwayoftyingthemembers
togetherisbyusingacastinplacereinforcedconcrete
topping[Figure3].Intheeventwhereacastinplace
slabaddstomuchweightmechanicalfastenerscanbe
usedbuttendtohavebrittlefailuresduetothehigh
concentrationofstressesinthemembers.Itispreferred
topouracontinuouscastinplacestripwithoverlapped
reinforcementbetweenthetwoprecastmembers[Figure
3](Sauter).
Figure3:MonolithicSlabConnections(PhotoCredit:Author)
Duetotheuseofmultiplemembershapesbeing
continuouslyusedinprecastconstruction,ithasledtojointdetailsbeingoversimplifiedcausingmembertobe
WikispacesClassroomisnowfree,social,andeasierthanever.Tryittoday.(https://www.wikispaces.com/t/y/classroom
switch/banner/2/)
simplysupported.Duetothehighstressesinconnectionsweakpointsarecreatedcausingprecaststructuresto
performpoorlyinseismicregionsbecauseofthelackofredundancyandandcontinuitybetweenthestructure
(Sauter).
Onetypeofconnectionfoundinprecaststructureisa"dry"connection.Theseconnectionsarecompletedonsiteby
connectinganembeddedsteelmemberintheprecasttoanothermemberbyweldingorbolting.Whilemanytypesof
mechanicalconnectorshavebeendeveloped,ithadbeenfoundthatmanydryconnectionsfailduringearthquakes.
Thisisduetothehighstressesthataredevelopedwhichcreateweakpointsinthestructure.Ontopofcreatingthese
weakpoints,ithasbeenfoundthattheworkmanshiponconnectionsdoneinthefieldareoftentimesbrittle.
Therefore,dryconnectionsarenottypicallythebestoptionwhendesigningaprecaststructureinaseismicregion
(Sauter).
Duetotheissueswithdryconnections,wetconnectionsarepreferisseismiczones.Withinprecaststructures,the
twomaintypesofwetconnectionsincludecastinplacereinforcedconcrete,andposttensionedjoints.Studieshave
shownthatthesetypesofconnectionshaveperformedexcellentlyduringearthquakesduetotheirmonolithicbehavior
duringcyclicloading.Theseconnectiongiveprecastconnectionsthecontinuityandredundancydesiredinaprecast
structureduringanearthquake(Sauter).

IsolationSystems

Figure4:RetrofittedbaseisolationsystemontheCourtofAppealsBuildinginSanFrancisco,California.(Photo
Credit:USGeologicalSurvey)
Throughtesting,ithasbeendeterminedthatisolationsystemsareaneffectivewayofreducingtheseismicloadsthat
lateralmembersexperienceduringanearthquake[Figure4].Thesesystemsincludebutarenotlimitedtofriction
dampers,rubberbearings,andplasticbumpers.Byusinganisolationsysteminabuilding,manybenefitsare
experienced,including:reducedseismicforces,reducedlateraldrift,reducedstructural/nonstructuraldamage,and
highersafetyfactorsagainstcollapse.Ontopofalloftheaforementionedbenefits,thesesystemshavetheabilityto
developsafer,moreeconomicalbuildingsforearthquakedesign.Byincludingisolationwithintheconnectionofthe
lateralforceresistingsystemtothefloordiaphragm,theelementsareallowedacertainamountofslipdissipating
energyintheprocessthroughfriction(Lostra2013).
Multipletestshavebeendoneonprecaststructuresusingductilejointedconnectionswithfavorableresults.Oneof
themanyteststhathavebeenperformedtookplaceattheUniversityofCalifornia,SanDiego.Inthetest,afivestory
scaledbuildingwithandisolationsystemwasplacedundercyclicloadingtogaugeitsperformance.Afterevaluation,
itwasfoundthatthebuildingperformedpositively,causingonlyminordamagestotheprecastmembersandthe
joints.AnothertestthattheUniversityofCalifornia,SanDiegoperformedoccurredin2004onsixstorybuildingson
campus.Duringtesting,amodelwithrigidconnectionwascomparedtoasimilarmodelusingenergydissipating
connectionsbetweenthelateralforceresistingelementsandfloordiaphragms.Byincludingtheenergydissipating
elements,itwasfoundthataccelerations,displacements,andoverturningmomentwerealldecreasedduetothe
frictionintheconnections(Lostra2013).
Whileisolationsystemsaretypicallyonlyappliedatthebaselevelofstructures,ishasbeenproventhatthese
systemscanalsobeimplementedatotherlevelsthroughoutbuildingsaswell.Anexampleofanisolationsystem
beingappliedatlevelsotherthanthebaseoccurredinthe1989threestorybuildingat185BerryStreet.Theoriginal
buildingonlyhadthreelevelsbuttwolevelswerelateraddedusinganisolationsystemsotheshearloadsatthebase
wouldnotbeincreased(Lostra2013).
Asmoreresearchandtestingisdoneonisolationsystemsappliedatdifferentlocationthroughoutstructuresitis
expectedthatdesigncodeswilldevelopforuseofthesesystems.Whilemanycodeshavenotbeendevelopedyet,
restinghasproventhatincludingisolationsystemsinstructureswithhighseismicactivityisagreatwayof
dissipatingtheenergyandloweringtheforcesexperiencedbythelateralforceresistingelements(Lostra2013).

FailedPrecastStructuresunderSeismicLoading

CaliforniaStateUniversityParkingGarage
OnJanuary17,1994,an
earthquakeof6.7
magnitudehitinLos
Angeles,California
causingmanyfatalities
andcollapsingoneof
CaliforniaState
Northridge'sprecast
parkingstructuresto
collapse[Figure5].After
investigationbyDames&
MooreInc.itwas
determinedthatthe
collapsemostlikely
Figure5:CaliforniaStateUniversityprecastparkinggaragecollapse(PhotoCredit:USGS)
occurredduetoafaulty
connection.Throughtheinvestigationifwasalsofoundthatthestructureexperienceddisplacementsateachlevel
thatwerefartoolargeforthenonductilecolumnstowithstand.ThroughtheanalysisdonebyDames&MooreInc.it
wasfoundthattheparkinggaragedidnotmeetcodeduetoitslackoncontinuityandpoorductility(Donovan2009).

1999KocaeliGolcuk&DuzceBoluTurkeyEarthquake
OnAugust17,199,anearthquakeof7.4magnitudehitinWesternTurkeycausingcausingmanycasualtiesand
causingseveredamagetomanybuildings.Ofthebuildings,theprecaststructureswereoneoftheworstperforming
structuralsystems.Manyoftheprecaststructureswerefoundtofailforoneoftworeasons.Thefirstreasonthat
manyofthebuildingsexperienceseriousdamagewasduetopoorconnectionsbetweenstructuralelements.The
secondreasonwasduetoimproperdiaphragmactionduetoprecastmembersnotbeingtiedtogethertocreatearigid
diaphragmtodistributethelateralloads.Duetothedetailingerrors,manyofthesestructurecollapseduetheseismic
activity(Tennant2011).

2012EmiliaRomagnaEarthquake
OnMay29,2012,thesecondoftwoearthquakes,ofnearly6.0magnitude,hittheEmiliaRomagnaregionofItaly
leavingmanyhomeless,andcausingmultiplecasualtiesintheprocess.Duringthetwoearthquakes,manybuildings
experiencedfailuresincludingmanyprecastindustrialstructures.Manyofthesestructuresfailedtoinadequate
connectionstrengths.Duetothelowstrength,itmadetheconnectionssusceptibletofailureduringthetwoseismic
events.Thebiggestcauseforfailureduringtheearthquakeswasdotocolumnsrotatinginoppositedirections
causingbeamstoslideoffoftheconnectionpointsandcollapse.Anothermainareaoffailureduringtheearthquake
occurredwiththeshearkeys,duetoinadequatedetailinginthereinforcementcausinglittleredundancyincreatinga
monolithicstructure(Loannou2012).

LessonsLearned
Whileithaslongbeenthoughtthatprecaststructurewasunabletoperformwellduringseismicactivity,through
researchandtestingithasbeendeterminedthattheycanperformequivalenttoacastinplaceconcretestructure.
Whilemanycodesstillhavenotbeendeveloped,researchteamsareworkingonresearchtofurtherthecodefor
precaststructuresinseismiczoneswhilecreatingguidesfordesignerstofollow.Itwasfoundthatmanyofthe
structuresinthepasthavefailedduetoimproperdetailing,poorworkmanship,andlackofcontinuity/redundancy
withinthestructure.Precastbuildingsthatdidnothavetheseissueshaveperformedadmirablyduetothemactingas
amonolithicstructure.

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