What is a seismic zone, or seismic hazard zone?  Where can I find information on seismic zones 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4?  What seismic zone is location X in?

A seismic zone could be one of three things:

  1. A region on a map in which a common level of seismic design is required. This concept is obsolete.
  2. An area of seismicity probably sharing a common cause. Example: "The New Madrid Seismic Zone."
  3. A region on a map for which a common areal rate of seismicity is assumed for the purpose of calculating probabilistic ground motions.

Building code maps using numbered zones, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, are practically obsolete. 1969 was the last year such a map was put out by this staff. The 1997 Uniform Building Code (UBC) (published in California) is the only building code that still uses such zones. Generally, over the past two decades, building codes have replaced maps having numbered zones with maps showing contours of design ground motion. These maps in turn have been derived from probabilistic ground motion maps. Probabilistic ground motion maps have been included in the seismic provisions of the most recent U.S. model building codes, such as the new "International Building code," and in national standards such as "Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures," prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Zone maps numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, etc., are no longer used for several reasons:

  1. A single map cannot properly display hazard for all probabilities or for all types of buildings. Probabilities: For very small probabilities of exceedance, probabilistic ground motion hazard maps show less contrast from one part of the country to another than do maps for large probabilities of exceedance. Buildings: Short stiff buildings are more vulnerable to close moderate-magnitude events than are tall, flexible buildings. The latter, in turn, are more vulnerable to distant large-magnitude events than are short, stiff buildings. Thus, the contrast in hazard for short buildings from one part of the country to another will be different from the contrast in hazard for tall buildings.
  2. Building codes adapt zone boundaries in order to accommodate the desire for individual states to provide greater safety, less contrast from one part of the state to another, or to tailor zones more closely to natural tectonic features. Because of these zone boundary changes, the zones do not have a deeper seismological meaning and render the maps meaningless for applications other than building codes. An example of such tailoring is given by the evolution of the UBC since its adaptation of a pair of 1976 contour maps. First, the UBC took one of those two maps and converted it into zones. Then, through the years, the UBC has allowed revision of zone boundaries by petition from various western states, e.g., elimination of zone 2 in central California, removal of zone 1 in eastern Washington and Oregon, addition of a zone 3 in western Washington and Oregon, addition of a zone 2 in southern Arizona, and trimming of a zone in central Idaho.

Older (1994, 1997) versions of the UBC code may be available at a local or university library. A redrafted version of the UBC 1994 map can be found as one of the illustrations in a paper on the relationship between USGS maps and building code maps.

Learn more:

USGS Spectral Response Maps and Their Relationship With Seismic Design Forces in Building Codes

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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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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)
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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

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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.

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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

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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

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Date published: March 14, 2018

USGS Authors New Report on Seismic Hazard, Risk, and Design for South America

New seismic hazard and risk assessments can help at-risk communities prepare for future earthquake disasters

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: 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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USGS scientists conduct passive seismic study in the Washita Reach 1 study area.
October 4, 2016

USGS scientists conduct passive seismic study in the Washita Reach 1 study area.

Map depicting difference in USGS estimates of earthquake hazards from 2002 and 2014
November 30, 2000

Figure 4-1

This map depicts the difference in USGS estimates of earthquake hazards across the nation in 2002 and 2014. The new FEMA earthquake loss report includes the 2014 data, while the previous 2008 report includes the 2002 data. The negative values represent a decrease in estimated hazard since 2002 and the positive values represent an increase.

US map depicting earthquake loss by county
November 30, 2000

Figure 3-4

This map depicts annualized earthquake loss by county. The estimated losses consider the value of buildings in each specific area.

Image shows an aerial view of the San Andreas Fault
November 30, 2000

Aerial photo of the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain. By Ikluft - Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3106006