WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.—Civil engineers at Purdue University are using a specialized laboratory to test a 32-foot-tall structure to determine the susceptibility of aging military buildings to earthquake damage.

"The military has some barracks built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before the development of current building codes, and there is interest in understanding the integrity of those structures," said Michael Kreger, a professor of civil engineering and director of Purdue’s Robert L. and Terry L. Bowen Laboratory for Large-Scale Civil Engineering Research.

Features in the laboratory, completed in 2004, include a testing area with a "strong floor" and 40-foot-high "reaction wall" containing numerous holes in which to anchor powerful hydraulic actuators that apply forces to large-scale structural models.

Officials are concerned that a powerful enough earthquake could cause supporting columns in the barracks to separate from the reinforced-concrete floor slabs, resulting in collapse.

Michael J. Baker, Esq., is a partner in the Cerritos, Calif.-based law firm of Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo. He is an expert in design and construction contracts, mediation, and litigation. Please send him your legal questions via e-mail at mbaker@gostructural.com.