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Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design
Spectra
Objectives
The objectives of this lecture are: (i) to learn about the response of a SDOF structure to a
pulse excitation; (ii) to learn about the response quantities; (iii) to learn about the response
and design spectra. The response spectrum concept is central to earthquake engineering
together with the procedures to determine the peak response of a system directly from the
response spectrum and needs to be well understood.
Figure 5.1. An example of single pulse excitation stimulus.
Response to pulse excitations
In this section we consider an important class of excitations that consist of a single pulse
of force (see Figure 5.1). The response of a SDOF system to such pulses does not reach a
steadystate condition and the transient solution of equation of motion (4.10) is important
together with the knowledge of the initial conditions. If the excitation is a single pulse,
then the effect of damping can be relatively unimportant unless the system is highly
damped. In this case, the equation of motion becomes
( )
g
mu ku mu t + = (5.1)
with atrest initial conditions, (0) (0) 0 u u = = . In the case of the simplest type of pulse, a
rectangular pulse of duration
d
t , the equation to be solved is
0
, 0
0, , 0
d
d
f t t
mu ku
t t t
+ =
> <
(5.2)
with the above initial conditions. Graphically, this pulse of force is presented in Figure
5.2. The analysis of the solution of equation (5.2) can be organised in two phases: (i)
forced vibration phase; (ii) free vibration phase (see also Lecture 04).
Figure 5.2. A rectangular force pulse.
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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Phase (i) Forced vibration phase. During this phase, the system is subjected to a step
force and the response of this system is given by equation (4.23) in which 0 , i.e.
( )
 
0
( ) 2
1 cos 1 cos , 0
n d
st n
u t
t t t t
u T
(
= =
(
(5.3)
where ( )
0
0
/
st
u f k = is the static deformation due to the static force
0
f .
Figure 5.3. The dynamic response of an undamped SDOF structure to a rectangular pulse force.
Phase (ii) free vibration phase. After the external force is removed at
d
t t = , the system
continues to vibrate freely according to the modified form of (4.17) ( 0 ), i.e.
( )
( ) ( ) cos ( ) sin ( ) ,
d
d n d n d d
n
u t
u t u t t t t t t t
(
= + >
(
, (5.4)
where ( )  
0
( ) 1 cos
d st n d
u t u t = and ( )
0
( ) sin
d st n n d
u t u t = . Expressing
2
n
n
T
= and
using trigonometric identities results in
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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( )
0
( ) 1
2sin sin 2
2
d d
st n n n
t t u t t
u T T T
(
   
=
(  
(
\ . \ .
,
d
t t > . (5.5)
Equations (5.3) and (5.5) present the response of a SDOF system exposed to a rectangular
pulse force of the duration
d
t as a function of /
n
t T . These equations show that the
normalised response depends on the ratio of the maximum external force and the stiffness
of the SDOF system,
0
/ f k , and on the ratio of the pulse duration and the natural period of
the SDOF system, /
d n
t T . Figure 5.3 illustrates the dynamic response of an undamped
SDOF system to a rectangular pulse force (solid lines) for several ratios /
d n
t T . Here the
dashed lines correspond to the static solution.
In engineering applications it often required to determine the overall maximum response
of a SDOF system to a pulse force excitation, i.e.
( )
0
( )
max
st
u t
u
(
(
(
. The number and
amplitude of local maxima (peaks) that develop in the forced vibration phase depends on
the /
d n
t T ratio (see Figure 5.3). One can expect that the longer the pulse duration, the
greater the number of peaks which can occur during the forced vibration phase. The first
peak with the maximum deformation ( )
0
0
2
st
u u = always occurs at / 2
n
t T = (see Figure
5.3). Therefore, the pulse duration,
d
t , must be longer than / 2
n
T for at least one peak to
develop during the forced vibration phase. If more than one peak develops during this
phase (Phase (i)) and the damping is negligibly small, then these peaks have similar value
and occur at / 2, 3 / 2, 5 / 2
n n n
t T T T = , etc. If / 2
d n
t T < , then no peak will develop during
the forced vibration phase and the response simply builds up from zero to ( )
d
u t .
In this way it is possible to define the maximum deformation during the forced vibration
phase using the deformation response factor
( )
0
0
2
1 cos , / 1/ 2
2, / 1/ 2
d
d n
d n
st
d n
t
t T
u
R T
u
t T
(
= =
>
(5.6)
During the free vibration phase (Phase (ii)) the system oscillates in a simple harmonic
motion given by equation (5.5) with the amplitude
2
2
0
( )
( )
d
d
n
u t
u u t
(
= +
(
(5.7)
and corresponding deformation response factor of
( )
0
0
2 sin
d
d
st n
u t
R
u T
= = (5.8)
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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which depends only on
d
n
t
T
. Finally, because the overall maximum deformation
(displacement) is given by the greatest of either the forcedresponse maximum (eq. (5.6))
or the freeresponse maximum (eq. (5.8)) we can define the overall deformation response
factor
( )
0
0
2sin , / 1/ 2
2, / 1/ 2
d
d n
n d
st
d n
t
t T
u
T R
u
t T
= =
>
(5.9)
Figure 5.4. The deformation response factor as a function of
d
n
t
T
: (a) response during forced and
free vibration phases; (b) shock spectrum.
The behaviour of the deformation response factor predicted by equation (5.9) is
graphically illustrated in Figure 5.4. This plot ( )
d n
R T is called the response spectrum. In
the particular case of a rectangular pulse excitation this plot is also called the shock
spectrum. It is clear from equation (5.9) and Figure 5.4 that the maximum displacement
of a SDOF system exposed to a pulse force of amplitude
0
f is up to two times as much as
the displacement of the same system exposed to a static force of the same amplitude. In
this way it is possible to define the equivalent static force which is required to cause
identical maximum deformation of the structure
0 0 0 S d
f ku f R = = . (5.10)
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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In practical calculations is can be easier to use the equivalent static force definition in the
static analysis of internal forces and stresses acting upon a structure exposed to an
earthquake excitation.
If the duration of a pulse force of arbitrary shape is shorter than / 2
d n
t T << , then the
overall maximum response of the system occurs during its free vibration phase (Phase
(ii)) and it is controlled by the time integral of the pulse (see expression (4.21) in Lecture
04) and can be approximated with
1
( ) sin
n
n
u t I t
m
(
(5.11)
where
0
( )
d
t
I f t dt =
of the force function. In this case, the maximum deformation is
proportional to the magnitude of the pulse. If the short pulse force is of rectangular shape,
then
( )
0
0
d
st n
u t
u T
= .
Response spectrum
In the area prone to earthquakes the ground vibration is routinely measured using
seismographers or ground accelerometers which record the ground acceleration, ( )
g
u t , as
a function of time. It is common to digitise these recordings and define the ground
acceleration by numerical values at discrete time intervals which are closely spaced to
describe the acceleration time with sufficient accuracy. Typically, the discretisation time
interval is chosen to be 1/100 or 1/50 of a second requiring 1500 or 3000 data points to
describe a 30second earthquake. The ground velocity, ( )
g
u t , and displacement, ( )
g
u t ,
are then obtained by integrating the timedependent acceleration data.
For a given ground motion recorded in the form of acceleration, ( )
g
u t , the deformation
response history of a structure can be determined by either solving directly equation of
motion (4.10) or by using Duhamels integral (4.21) for a given effective earthquake
force, ( ) ( )
eff g
f t mu t = applied to the structure. Once the deformation history, ( ) u t , is
evaluated using the dynamic analysis of the structure, the internal forces can be
determined by static analysis of the structure in each instant. Here the preferred approach
is based on the concept of the equivalent static force (see eq. (5.10) and Figure 5.5)
because it can be related to earthquake forces specified in building codes.
Figure 5.5. On the concept of the equivalent static force.
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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Since
2
n
k m = , we can express the equivalent static force in the following form
2
( ) ( )
S n
f t m u t = or ( ) ( )
S
f t mA t = (5.12)
where ( ) A t is the pseudoacceleration which is a rather different quantity to that of the
ground acceleration, ( )
g
u t . The pseudoacceleration of a structure can be calculated
directly using the displacement history, ( ) u t , and knowing the structural mass, m and the
frequency of excitation,
n
. Figure 5.6 presents the pseudoacceleration of a SDOF
structure (with variable natural period, fixed damping ratio, 0.02 = ) exposed to an El
Centro 1940 ground motion. The pseudoacceleration was calculated by multiplying the
precomputed structural deformation, ( ) u t , by the squared natural frequency of the
structure,
2
2
2
n
n
T
(
=
(
. The pseudoacceleration data presented in Figure 5.6 can be used
to determine the internal forces in the frame at a selected instant,
0
t , by static analysis of
the structure subjected to the equivalent static lateral force,
0
( )
S
f t . In this way, the
analysis of the structure would be necessary at each time instant when the structural
responses need to be known. In particular case of the frame shown in Figure 5.5, the base
shear force is ( ) ( ) ( )
b S
V t f t mA t = = and the overturning moment is
( ) ( ) ( )
b S
M t hf t hmA t = = .
Figure 5.6. The pseudoacceleration response of SDOF structures to El Centro 1940 earthquake.
In order to summarise the response of all possible SDOF structures to a particular
component of ground motion it is convenient to introduce the concept of the response
spectrum. In this way it is possible to plot the peak value of a response quantity (e.g.
displacement, velocity or acceleration) as a function of the natural vibration frequency,
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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,
n n
f , or the natural period,
n
T . This plot is called the response spectrum for that
quantity. The response spectra are normally plotted for a range of damping ratios typical
in actual structures. Formally, the response spectra can be defined as following
 deformation response spectrum:
0
( , ) max ( , , )
n n
t
u T u t T (5.13a)
 velocity response spectrum:
0
( , ) max ( , , )
n n
t
u T u t T (5.13b)
 acceleration response spectrum:
0
( , ) max ( , , )
n n
t
u T u t T . (5.13c)
In simple terms, the response spectrum is a plot of the peak or steadystate response
(displacement, velocity or acceleration) of a series of oscillators of varying natural
frequency, that are forced into motion by the same base vibration or shock.
The response spectrum for a given ground motion component, ( )
g
u t , can be determined
using the following procedure:
1. Numerically define the ground acceleration, ( )
g
u t
2. Select the natural vibration period,
n
T , and damping ratio, , of a SDOF structure.
3. Compute the deformation response of this SDOF structure due to the ground
motion, ( )
g
u t , by a direct numerical method applied to eq. (4.10) or solving the
Duhamels integral (see also exp. (4.17) in Lecture 04)
( )
0
1
( ) ( ) sin( ( ))
D
t
t
g D
D
u t u e t d
4. For given
n
T and determine the peak value of the deformation, ( ) u t , i.e.
0
max ( )
T
D u u t = = .
5. For given
n
T and determine the peak values of acceleration,
2
2
n
A D
T
 
=

\ .
, and
velocity,
2
n
V D
T
 
=

\ .
.
6. Repeat steps 2 to 5 to cover all possible values of
n
T and of engineering interest.
7. Present the results of steps 2 to 6 graphically to produce three separate spectra like
those shown in Figure 5.7 for the ( )
g
u t recorded at the time of El Centro
earthquake (see Figure 4.8 in Lecture 04).
The deformation, velocity and acceleration response spectra contain by and large similar
information, i.e. knowing one of the spectra, the other two can be easily recalculated. One
reason why the three spectra are needed is that each of them provides a physically
meaningful quantity. The deformation spectrum provides the peak deformation of the
system. The pseudovelocity is related to the peak strain energy stored in the system
during the earthquake. The pseudoacceleration spectrum is related to the peak value of
the equivalent static force and the base shear. The other reason is that it convenient to use
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the shapes of the three spectra can be used to derive an approximate spectrum illustrative
and useful for the design purposes. As a result, a combined type of spectral plot was
developed by Veletsos and Newmark in 1960 (see Figure 5.8). This integrated
presentation of the response spectra is possible because the three spectral quantities are
interrelated, i.e.
2
n
V D
T
 
=

\ .
and
2
n
A V
T
 
=

\ .
. In this case, fourway logarithmic paper
can be used as explained in Appendix 5.1 to present the spectra as shown in Figure 5.8.
Figure 5.7. The DVA response spectra for El Centro 1940 earthquake ( 0.02 = ).
The response spectrum should cover a wide range of natural vibration periods and several
damping values so that it provides the peak response for all possible structures. Practical
values of damping ratio and natural vibration periods can cover the range of 0 0.2
and 0.02 50
n
T seconds, respectively. This procedure is also repeated for the
perpendicular component of the ground acceleration. The above procedure requires a
considerable computational effort and is conducted using a specialised software package,
e.g. SeismoSignal.
The response spectrum has proven so useful in earthquake engineering that spectra for
virtually all ground motions strong enough to be of engineering interest are now
computed and published soon after they are recorded. There are enough spectra in the
database to give a reasonable idea of the kind of motion that is likely to occur in future
earthquakes and how the response spectra are affected by distance to the earthquake
epicentre, local soil conditions and regional geology. If the response spectrum for a given
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ground acceleration can be available readily for any SDOF structure with given
n
T and .
In this way all the response quantities of interest can be expressed in terms of D, V , A,
mass of the system, m, or its stiffness, k. Therefore, the peak value of the equivalent static
force can be determined from
0 S
f kD mA = = . (5.14)
Figure 5.8. The combined DVA spectrum for El Centro 1940 earthquake ( 0; 0.02; 0.05; 0.20 = ).
Design spectrum
The design spectrum is intended for the design of new structures within a seismic zone or
for the evaluation of existing structures to resist future earthquakes. For this purpose the
response spectra for the ground motion recorded during the past earthquakes are
inadequate because of their considerable statistical variation. Figure 5.9 presents the
response spectra for the northsouth component of ground acceleration recorded at the
Imperial Valley Irrigation district substation in El Centro, California, USA. This figure
suggests that it is difficult or even impossible to describe accurately the jagged response
spectrum in all its details for a ground motion which can occur in the future. Therefore, it
would be convenient if the design spectrum could consist of a set of smooth curves or a
series of straight lines with one curve for each level of damping. This spectrum should be
representative of ground motions recorded at the site during the past earthquakes and
include some statistical information. If none of the response spectra are available for a
site, then the design spectrum should be based on the ground motions recorded on other
site under similar conditions. These conditions should relate to: (i) the magnitude of the
earthquake; (ii) epicentral distance; (iii) geology of the travel path for seismic waves; and
(iv) local soil conditions at the site. Statistical analysis of the past response spectra can
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provide the probability distribution for the spectral quantity, its mean value and its
standard deviation at each period
n
T . Connecting all mean values for all possible natural
vibration periods should give the mean response spectrum. Similar procedure can be used
to obtain the mean plus one standard deviation response spectrum (see Figure 5.10).
Figure 5.9. The pseudoacceleration response spectra calculated for earthquakes which were
recorded at an El Centro site in California during 1940, 1956 and 1968.
Figure 5.10. Statistical response spectra and idealised design spectrum.
One result from the application of such procedure to numerical data assembled by Riddell
and Newmark is illustrated in Figure 5.10. Here the mean spectrum is approximated by
four straight lines which intersect at the recommended period values 1/ 33
a
T = seconds,
1/ 8
b
T = seconds, 10
e
T = seconds and 33
f
T = seconds. In these regions amplification
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factors can be applied to these lines to guarantee nonexistence probabilities (the
probability that the structural response spectrum does not exceed the design spectrum) and
to satisfy several values of damping.
The design spectrum differs from the response spectrum in two important ways. Firstly,
the uneven response spectrum is a plot of the peak response of all possible SDOF systems
and hence it is a description of a particular ground motion. On the other hand, the smooth
design spectrum is a specification of the level of seismic design force or deformation as a
function of natural vibration period and damping ratio. It is common that the shapes of
these spectra differ considerably. If the design spectrum is determined by statistical
analysis of several comparable response spectra, then the shapes of the two spectra can be
similar. Secondly, for some sites a design spectrum is the envelope of two different
design spectra (see Figure 5.11).
Figure 5.11. Combined pseudoacceleration spectrum based on the design spectra for two diffirent sites.
Glossary
Deformation response factor the ratio of the amplitude of the dynamic (vibratory) deformation to
the static deformation.
Design spectrum an adapted response spectrum used for the design of new structures within a
seismic zone or for the evaluation of existing structures to resist future earthquakes.
Equivalent static force the product of the deformation response factor and dynamic force.
1 kip (kilopounds force) = 4448 N
Pseudoacceleration the ratio of the equivalent static force and the structural mass
Response spectrum  the plot of the peak value of a response quantity (e.g. displacement, velocity
or acceleration) as a function of the natural vibration frequency, ,
n n
f , or the natural period,
n
T .
Shock spectrum the response spectrum of a structure exposed to a rectangular pulse force.
References
K. Chopra, Dynamics of Structures: Theory and Applications to Earthquake Engineering.
Chapters 4 and 6. 3
rd
Edition, Pearson Education, Inc. 2007.
K. V. Horoshenkov, Earthquake Engineering Module: ENG4075M. Lecture 04. School of
Engineering, Design and Technology, University of Bradford, 2008.
Lecture 05: Earthquake Excitation, Response and Design Spectra
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Appendix 5.1: Fourway graph paper.
(see also section 3.2.4 in Chopra, 2007 for the relations between dynamic response factors)