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 particular level of hazard due to earthquakes. Typically, a high seismic hazard zone is nearest a seismic zone where there are more earthquakes, and a lower seismic hazard zone is farther away from a seismic zone.

Another point of confusion is that the California Geological Survey has two sets of maps with the names “Earthquake Hazards Zones” and “Earthquake Fault Zones (Alquist-Priolo)”.

There was also a seismic zone system (0,1,2,3,4) used for building codes that is now obsolete.


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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-...