Behind The Scenes: Will It Shake Fishtank Edition

If I learned anything about myself and earthquakes, it’s that I really don’t like cleaning up wet, broken glass.

First wine bottles, then fish tanks. Of all the videos, the aquarium video was the most difficult to produce simply because nobody at Totally Unprepared is a physicist. Or an engineer. We all watched Alyssa’s video submission and thought, “THAT’S going to be a boring video when the aquarium doesn’t move in the quake simulator.”

So we put it off. Avoidance rather than preparation, even earthquake prep people do it.

While having a few beers with our seismic engineer friends after the first day of filming, we opened up about our worries. “The fish tank is going to be so dull! Who will watch a fish tank splash a bit in an earthquake?”

Andy, Paul and Darren looked at us blankly as if to say, “What do you mean the aquarium isn’t going to move in an earthquake, are you all idiots?”

“What?” we said, like idiots.

After a little physics lesson and some reassurance that we’d “See when we got there,” we set up two identical side tables with aquariums upon them, one set unsecured and the other set secured with velcro, straps and wall studs.

Paul ran the earthquake simulation. At a low shake rate, water sloshed out. From both tanks. Disaster experts say, “Don’t let your floor get wet in the next earthquake.” Boring, but honest.

But then Paul turned the shake rate up just a little bit, and the water sloshes turned into cresting waves pushing against the side of the tank and moving it. As it moved, the table moved, and the whole tank and the table came crashing down spectacularly. As you can see.

Don’t sit next to an unsecured fish tank in an earthquake, okay?

Things Move in an Earthquake – Period

Our physics lesson for the day: heavy things don’t move less in earthquakes.  Just because the tank is extremely heavy doesn’t mean it will stay put once the ground starts shaking.

As the water gets pushed back and forth by the earthquake, the wave get bigger each time it hits the wall of the aquarium and bounces an even bigger wave of water back across to the other side of the tank. Some water will splash out of the tank, and some water will hit the side of the tank with greater and greater force as the shaking continues. Eventually, AKA seconds, the water will push the tank over. If the tank has any kind of stickiness to the table beneath it (that’s called friction, we learned) the table will get pulled over by the tank as well.

If for some bizarre reason you don’t feel moved by the plight of little fishies, then watch this refrigerator video.

That thing weighs a ton and will go flying during an earthquake. Just because you’re not strong enough to move the fridge to sweep behind it, doesn’t mean Mother Nature isn’t. She just has better things to do with her time than housework.