Frequently Asked Questions

Natural Hazards

The USGS monitors and conducts research on a wide range of natural hazards to help decision-makers prepare for and respond to hazard events that threaten life and property.

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Image: Installing Antenna and Solar Panel for Seismic Station
The U.S. Geological Survey performs the following functions related to earthquake hazard mitigation: Receives, analyzes, maintains, and distributes data on earthquake activity worldwide. Satellites link our National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado to a network of seismograph stations. These stations, located throughout the world...
Image: Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage
Earthquake engineers are working to make roads and buildings safer in the event of a major earthquakes. This includes both improving the design of new buildings and bridges as well as strengthening older units to incorporate the latest advances in seismic and structural engineering. The Federal Emergency Management Agency plays a central role in...
Image: Mw6.6 Lushan China Earthquake, April 20 2013
We know of no current "zone" designations for sites outside of the United States. For locations outside the United States for which seismic design is required for military facilities, there exists a standard based on probabilistic spectral ordinates in the manner of the International Building Code and are declared to reflect the 2015 version of...
USGS map displaying potential to experience damage from a natural or human-induced earthquake in 2017
Not really. The USGS Seismic Hazard Maps website and the Unified Hazard Tool (for building custom maps) are designed to display the probability of different events that might occur in a several-year to several-decade period. The model bases all probability estimates on the average rate of earthquakes over long periods of time. As you shorten the...
Map depicting difference in USGS estimates of earthquake hazards from 2002 and 2014
The USGS uses these four terms to refer to four different things. Early warning is a notification that is issued after an earthquake starts. Probabilities and forecasts are comparable to climate probabilities and weather forecasts, while predictions are more like statements of when, where, and how large, which is not yet possible for earthquakes....
Map depicting more than 100 aftershocks that have occurred since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal on April 25, 2015. To dat
Worldwide the probability that an earthquake will be followed within 3 days by a large earthquake nearby is somewhere just over 6%. In California, that probability is about 6%. This means that there is about a 94% chance that any earthquake will NOT be a foreshock. In California, about half of the biggest earthquakes were preceded by foreshocks;...
3D perspective view of the likelihood that each region of California will experience a magnitude 6.7 within 30 years
Los Angeles area: Within the next 30 years the probability is: 60% that an earthquake measuring magnitude 6.7 46% that an earthquake measuring magnitude 7 31% that an earthquake measuring magnitude 7.5 will occur in the Los Angeles region. San Francisco Bay area: Within the next 30 years the probability is: 72% that an earthquake measuring...
USGS map displaying seismic events in 2015 and 2016 in the central and eastern U.S.
The National Seismic Hazards Mapping project provides an online Web tool for determining the probability of a large earthquake within 50 kilometers (~31 miles) of a specific location in the United States over a certain time period.  The calculation is based on the latest available information from seismic hazard data. However, asking if it's safe...
Image: Damaged Building
Ground shaking is the primary cause of earthquake damage to man-made structures. Many factors influence the strength of earthquake shaking at a site including the earthquake's magnitude, the site's proximity to the fault, the local geology, and the soil type.  More than 250 structures throughout the United States have been outfitted with seismic...
Damage to a house from and earthquake
You should consider the following factors when deciding whether or not to get earthquake insurance: proximity to active earthquake faults seismic history of the region (frequency of earthquakes) time since last earthquake building construction (type of building and foundation) architectural layout materials used quality of workmanship extent to...
Damage to buildings in Cushing, Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.0 earthquake on November 6, 2016
Published maps will only provide generalized, uninterpreted information about specific areas. Every property consists of a unique combination of geologic and structural factors that must be considered to determine what might happen to a house during an earthquake. Therefore, an individual site study is necessary. Geologic factors include: type of...
2014 South Napa Earthquake in California
Determining your risk with regard to earthquakes, or more precisely shaking from earthquakes, isn't as simple as finding the nearest fault. The chances of experiencing shaking from an earthquake and/or having property damage is dependent on many different factors. The National Hazard Maps use all available data to estimate the chances of shaking (...