Several approaches are used to assess the performance of the built environment following an earthquake -- preliminary damage surveys conducted by professionals, detailed studies of individual structures, and statistical analyses of groups of structures. Reports of damage that are issued by many organizations immediately following an earthquake play a key role in directing subsequent detailed investigations.
Detailed studies of individual structures and statistical analyses of groups of structures may be motivated by particularly good or bad performance during an earthquake. Beyond this, practicing engineers typically perform stress analyses to assess the performance of a particular structure to vibrational levels experienced during an earthquake. The levels may be determined from recorded or estimated ground motions; actual levels usually differ from design levels. If a structure has seismic instrumentation to record response data, the estimated and recorded response and behavior of the structure can be compared.