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 a seismic zone, or seismic hazard zone?

Although you may hear the terms “seismic zone” and “seismic hazard zone” used interchangeably, they really describe two slightly different things. A seismic zone is used to describe an area where earthquakes tend to focus; for example, the New Madrid Seismic Zone in the Central United States. A seismic hazard zone describes an area with a...