♫MUSIC♫ MILES O’BRIEN: In a tsunami, devastation is created by far more than the wave itself. Debris that hits homes and other structures plays a huge role in a tsunami’s destructive power. But until now, engineers could only guess at the forces at work when debris like a floating telephone pole hits a house. [IMPACT TESTS] With support from the National Science Foundation, engineers from across the country have teamed up to design and carry out a series of large-scale tests aimed at better understanding exactly what happens when debris strikes. CLAY NAITO: The research project is essentially looking at the types of debris that would be in a typical tsunami environment and what forces are being generated from that. MILES O’BRIEN: On the day we visited, structural engineer Clay Naito and his team at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania were conducting a test on a new type of blast resistant wall. But, recently this test facility was transformed into Tsunami Central. The idea – recreate full-scale debris strikes, and record exactly what happens. They started with 20 foot telephone poles – then moved on to a five thousand pound shipping container. CLAY NAITO: And, the goal here was to try and figure out the forces that were being generated at different impact velocities. So we do a quick release on the end and it hits the load cells. MILES O’BRIEN: Key to the test was the measuring device, called a load cell, that recorded the impact data. CLAY NAITO: The impact you might have forces as high as half a million pounds that could occur in a very, very short duration of maybe 100th of a second. It shows the impact event at the bottom as we impact the load cells. MILES O’BRIEN: Naito and his colleagues used the data to validate computer models designed to predict how different types of debris respond under the stress of impact. The ultimate goal – to use the lessons learned through these tests to establish new design standards and building codes. CLAY NAITO: We’re able to then take those properties and come up with an estimate of what force the structural engineer needs to design the building for. So within a couple of years everything we have learned should be applied and should be required of all building design. MILES O’BRIEN: It just goes to show – for engineers, it never hurts to be AWASH in data. For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.