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 sensors by the USGS National Strong Motion Project (NSMP) to improve the overall understanding of earthquakes and their effects on the built environment.

The instrumentation and monitoring of structures by NSMP is only one part of USGS efforts to protect people’s lives and property from earthquake hazards in all of the Nation’s seismically active regions.

Additional information is available from the Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research website.

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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...

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...

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...

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...

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 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;...

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...

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 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 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 24, 2018

East vs West Coast Earthquakes

Why was an earthquake in Virginia felt at more than twice the distance than a similar-sized earthquake in California? The answer is one that many people may not realize. Earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains can cause noticeable ground shaking at much farther distances than comparably-sized earthquakes in the West.

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: June 26, 2014

New Audiences, New Products for the National Seismic Hazard Maps

New Audiences, New Products for the National Seismic Hazard Maps

Date published: January 15, 2014

20 Years After Northridge Quake, Buildings Remain Vulnerable

Twenty years ago this week an earthquake struck Northridge, Calif., killing 57 people and revealing a serious defect in a common type of mid-rise building. A new study by U.S. Geological Survey and Caltech engineers, shows that these mid-rise buildings with fracture-prone welds in their steel frames are much more dangerous than they would be if they met current standards.

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: November 6, 2008

What Would a Great Earthquake do to the Buildings in Downtown Los Angeles?

A great earthquake along the southern San Andreas Fault could cause many tall buildings to collapse in Los Angeles, explains USGS earthquake expert Dr. Ken Hudnut in a new video interview.

Date published: April 21, 2008

Earthquake Hazard Maps Show How the Nation Shakes with Quakes

Friday's magnitude-5.2 earthquake in southern Illinois is a reminder that earthquakes are a national hazard.

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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Damage from South Napa Earthquake
February 13, 2017

Damage from South Napa Earthquake

Damaged unreinforced masonry building on Main Street in downtown Napa, California. Photograph credit: Erol Kalkan, USGS

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

Damage to Monuments in Nepal
April 27, 2016

Damage to Monuments in Nepal

Major damage was more likely to monuments in Kathmandu, Nepal than more modern structures.

September 25, 2014

PubTalk 8/2014 — Ground Shaking in '89 Loma Prieta Quake: 25 yrs later

by Brad Aagaard, USGS Research Geophysicist

 

  • What factors controlled the variability in ground shaking in the earthquake?
  • Will the ground shaking in future earthquakes display similar patterns?
  • Hear about the advances made in recording ground shaking over the past 25 years.
  • Learn how USGS uses this information
...
building damaged by an earthquake
December 31, 2011

Earthquake-damaged building

Building damanged by the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Attribution: Natural Hazards
Image: House Damage from 2011 Oklahoma Earthquake
November 6, 2011

House Damage from 2011 Oklahoma Earthquake

House damage in central Oklahoma from the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011. Research conducted by USGS geophysicist Elizabeth Cochran and her university-based colleagues suggests that this earthquake was induced by injection into deep disposal wells in the Wilzetta North field.

WA monument up close showing crack
August 23, 2011

Washington Monument Damaged from Mineral, VA Earthquake

Photo of the pyramid top of the Washington Monument from the U.S Park Police Helicopter.

Image: Severely Damaged Buildings
May 25, 2008

Severely Damaged Buildings

Civilians on road alongside severely damaged residential buildings in Mianyang.

Image: Damaged Building
October 17, 1989

Damaged Building

A downtown building at the corner of Alice and 13th Streets lost part of its unreinforced facade and brick masonry.

Image: Long Beach Earthquake: Car Next to Damaged Building
March 10, 1933

Long Beach Earthquake: Car Next to Damaged Building

A car is parked next to the rubble of a damaged building.

Attribution: Natural Hazards