Earthquake impact scale

Natural Hazards Review
By: , and 



With the advent of the USGS prompt assessment of global earthquakes for response (PAGER) system, which rapidly assesses earthquake impacts, U.S. and international earthquake responders are reconsidering their automatic alert and activation levels and response procedures. To help facilitate rapid and appropriate earthquake response, an Earthquake Impact Scale (EIS) is proposed on the basis of two complementary criteria. On the basis of the estimated cost of damage, one is most suitable for domestic events; the other, on the basis of estimated ranges of fatalities, is generally more appropriate for global events, particularly in developing countries. Simple thresholds, derived from the systematic analysis of past earthquake impact and associated response levels, are quite effective in communicating predicted impact and response needed after an event through alerts of green (little or no impact), yellow (regional impact and response), orange (national-scale impact and response), and red (international response). Corresponding fatality thresholds for yellow, orange, and red alert levels are 1, 100, and 1,000, respectively. For damage impact, yellow, orange, and red thresholds are triggered by estimated losses reaching \$1M, \$100M, and \$1B, respectively. The rationale for a dual approach to earthquake alerting stems from the recognition that relatively high fatalities, injuries, and homelessness predominate in countries in which local building practices typically lend themselves to high collapse and casualty rates, and these impacts lend to prioritization for international response. In contrast, financial and overall societal impacts often trigger the level of response in regions or countries in which prevalent earthquake resistant construction practices greatly reduce building collapse and resulting fatalities. Any newly devised alert, whether economic- or casualty-based, should be intuitive and consistent with established lexicons and procedures. Useful alerts should also be both specific (although allowably uncertain) and actionable. In this analysis, an attempt is made at both simple and intuitive color-coded alerting criteria; yet the necessary uncertainty measures by which one can gauge the likelihood for the alert to be over- or underestimated are preserved. The essence of the proposed impact scale and alerting is that actionable loss information is now available in the immediate aftermath of significant earthquakes worldwide on the basis of quantifiable loss estimates. Utilizing EIS, PAGER’s rapid loss estimates can adequately recommend alert levels and suggest appropriate response protocols, despite the uncertainties; demanding or awaiting observations or loss estimates with a high level of accuracy may increase the losses.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Earthquake impact scale
Series title Natural Hazards Review
DOI 10.1061/(ASCE)NH.1527-6996.0000040
Volume 12
Issue 3
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher ASCE
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 15 p.
First page 125
Last page 139
Country Chile
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details