How are engineers working to make roads and buildings safer?

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 funding research and development for the purpose of mitigating the effects of earthquakes.

Learn more:

FEMA - Earthquake Information for Building Designers, Managers and Regulators

National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program

UC Berkeley

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How do I get earthquake hazard maps for locations outside of the U.S.?

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...

What is the USGS doing to mitigate and respond to earthquake hazards?

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...

Can the National Seismic Hazard Maps be used as an earthquake forecast tool for the near future?

Not really. This web site is designed to display the probability of different sources that might occur in a several-year to several-decade period. The model bases all probability estimates on mean rate of earthquakes over long periods. As you shorten the time window, you should expect greater and greater fluctuations in what may be observed from...

What is the probability that an earthquake is a foreshock to a larger earthquake?

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;...

Are earthquake probabilities or forecasts the same as prediction?

No. Probabilities and forecasts are rather like climate probabilities and weather forecasts, while predictions are more like statements of when, where, and how large, which is not yet possible for earthquakes. Probabilities describe the long-term chances that an earthquake of a certain magnitude will happen during a time window. Most earthquake...

What is the probability that an earthquake will occur in the Los Angeles Area? In the San Francisco Bay area?  

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...

How do I decide whether or not to get earthquake insurance?

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...

How do earthquakes affect buildings?

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...

What is the likelihood of a large earthquake at location X?  Is it safe to go to X since they've been having a lot of earthquakes lately?

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 over a certain time period. The calculation is based on the latest available information from seismic hazard data. Unified Hazard Tool - Earthquake Hazard and...

How will my house hold up in an earthquake? Can the USGS send someone out to evaluate my property?

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...

What are the earthquake hazards/risks where I live?

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 (...

What is seismic hazard? What is a seismic hazard map? How are they made? How are they used? Why are there different maps, and which one should I use?

Seismic hazard is the hazard associated with potential earthquakes in a particular area, and a seismic hazard map shows the relative hazards in different areas. The maps are made by considering what we currently know about: Past faults and earthquakes The behavior of seismic waves as they travel through different parts of the U.S. crust The near-...
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Date published: April 18, 2018

USGS Rolls Out Groundbreaking Earthquake Study: The HayWired Earthquake Scenario

USGS collaborates with key academic, state, local, and industry partners to provide a new look at what could happen during a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Date published: November 15, 2016

Assessing Critical Infrastructure Damage After Earthquakes

Early on the morning of August 24, 2014, Loren Turner was awoken by clattering window blinds, a moving bed, and the sound of water splashing out of his backyard pool. He experienced what is now named the “South Napa Earthquake.” 

Date published: April 8, 2011

California Can Learn From Recent Large Earthquakes

A new report issued by the American Red Cross and the U.S. Geological Survey documents the Chilean response and recovery efforts following the Feb. 2010 magnitude 8.8 earthquake and the lessons that California should learn from this disaster.   

Date published: October 17, 2009

Advances in Science, Technology, have Bay Area better prepared for the next big earthquake

Twenty years after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused loss of life and widespread property damage, advances in science, technology and engineering have the San Francisco Bay Area better prepared for the next big earthquake. When the Loma Prieta quake hit just after 5 p.m. October 17, 1989 – 20 years ago Saturday – the digital age was in its infancy.

Date published: October 8, 2009

Bay Area better prepared since Loma Prieta earthquake

On October 17, minutes before the scheduled start of the third game of the 1989 World Series in San Francisco, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake rocked the California coast from Monterey to San Francisco. Centered near Loma Prieta peak in the mountains south of San Jose, the quake killed 63 people and caused an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion in property loss.

Date published: October 28, 2008

Earthquakes? Don’t Freak Out--ShakeOut!

What if you knew that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would happen in less than three weeks? In a new video interview, USGS earthquake scientist Dr. Lucy Jones explains that millions of Southern Californians will be preparing as if they do know, thanks to the Great Southern California ShakeOut.

Date published: May 22, 2008

Disaster Earthquake Scenario Unveiled for Southern California

Scientists today unveiled a hypothetical Scenario describing how a magnitude 7.8 Southern California earthquake -similar to the recent earthquake in China- would impact the region, causing loss of lives and massive damage to infrastructure, including critical transportation, power, and water systems.

Date published: January 22, 2001

New USGS Map Will Improve Earthquake Hazards Assessment in the Bay Area

A new geologic map of surficial deposits in the nine-county San Francisco Bay region that can be used to evaluate earthquake hazards has been released in digital form by the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park.

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Earthquake Road Damage
April 14, 2017

Earthquake Road Damage

Photographs showing examples of types of damage to lifelines and infrastructure expected to occur along the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay region, California, in an earthquake like the magnitude-7 mainshock modeled in the HayWired Scenario.

2014 South Napa Earthquake in California
February 13, 2017

2014 South Napa Earthquake in California

Pavement buckling and tented sidewalk resulting from the South Napa Earthquake. Photograph credit: Thomas Holzer, USGS

Image: 2014 South Napa CA M6 Earthquake - August 24
August 23, 2014

2014 South Napa CA M6 Earthquake - August 24

Right lateral offset of Browns Valley Rd. centerline, on a secondary fault strand.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: 2014 South Napa CA M6 Earthquake - August 24
August 23, 2014

2014 South Napa CA M6 Earthquake - August 24

Driveway buckling across secondary fault strand at Browns Valley Rd. 

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image shows a road split due to earthquake damage
November 30, 2000

1964 Alaskan Earthquake Damage

Damage from the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake. Credit: USGS

Image: Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage
January 1, 1994

Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage

Collection of USGS still images taken after the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake highlighting the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage
January 1, 1994

Northridge, CA Earthquake Damage

Collection of USGS still images taken after the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake highlighting the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: Liquefaction in Subsurface Layer of Sand
October 17, 1989

Liquefaction in Subsurface Layer of Sand

Ground shaking triggered liquefaction in a subsurface layer of sand, producing differential lateral and vertical movement in a overlying carapace of unliquified sand and silt, which moved from right to left toward the Pajaro River. This mode of ground failure, termed "lateral spreading," is a principal cause of liquefaction-related earthquake damage.