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QuakeSmart Toolkit: Step 1: Identify Your Risk

Identify Your Earthquake Hazard

Businesses need to determine if they’re located in an earthquake hazard area. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) website provides useful information about your area’s earthquake hazard, including shake maps and data on the most recent earthquakes. It is also important to determine if your supply chain, vendors, clients/customers, etc. are located in an earthquake hazard area because their risk is also your risk. Should any of those be impacted, your business and community could also be affected.

To determine whether your business is located in an earthquake hazard area, please see the USGS Earthquake Hazard Map or visit for more details.

USGS National Seismic Hazard Map
The USGS National Seismic Hazard Maps display earthquake ground motions for various probability levels across the United States and are applied in seismic provisions of building codes, insurance rate structures, risk assessments, and other public policy (Source:

Identify Your Earthquake Vulnerabilities

Review the structural and nonstructural vulnerabilities of your building to assess your overall earthquake risk.

Structural Risks

When addressing structural risks, the goal is to make your building more resistant to collapse, damage and disruption in the event of an earthquake. Depending on when and how they were designed and built, existing buildings may have structural weaknesses that make them more vulnerable to earthquakes. Check with your local building-regulatory agency to find out whether, and for how long, structures in your area have been subject to building codes containing seismic design provisions. Facilities constructed before adequate provisions came into effect may have structural vulnerabilities.

NOTE: Businesses renting or leasing should consult the building owner before addressing any structural risks.

Structural retrofit image, bolted wooden beams
Structural Risk: A homeowner retrofitted their home with earthquake straps and bolts to prevent movement in the event of an earthquake (Photo by Adam DuBrowa/FEMA).

Nonstructural Risks

During an earthquake, which of the following nonstructural elements within your facility could fall and/or break to cause fire, additional damage, injury, interruption of business operations, or costly repair/recovery expenses? Nonstructural seismic weaknesses can be as or more dangerous, costly, and disruptive as structural vulnerabilities. Any nonstructural items that are not effectively anchored, braced, reinforced, or otherwise secured could become safety hazards or property losses in an earthquake. Design and construction professionals are needed to properly secure some of these components, while others can be made safe by maintenance staff or other employees.

Nonstructural retrofit image, roof parapets reinforced
Roof parapet bracing is a highly recommended nonstructural earthquake mitigation activity (Photo by Mike Griffin).

Making Buildings Safer
Making buildings safer can be more affordable and less disruptive when done incrementally. See the following FEMA publications for guidance:

Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of School Buildings, K–12 (FEMA 395)

Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Hospital Buildings (FEMA 396)

Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Office Buildings (FEMA 397)

Incremental Seismic Rehabilitation of Retail Buildings (FEMA 399)

For specific methods of securing common nonstructural building components, see Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage (FEMA E-74).

The following is a basic checklist of potential nonstructural and structural vulnerabilities:

  • Nonstructural Building Utility Systems
    • Propane Tank
    • Water Heater
    • Piping
    • HVAC Equipment and Ducts
    • Suspended Space Heater
    • Fuel Tank
    • Air Compressor
    • Automatic Fire Sprinkler Piping & Heads
    • Others (if any, list separately):
  • Nonstructural Architectural Elements
    • Built-In Partitions
    • Suspended T-Bar Ceilings
    • Suspended Light Fixtures
    • Stairways
    • Windows
    • Roof Parapets
    • Exterior Veneer
    • Exterior Signs
    • Freestanding Walls or Fences
    • Others (if any, list separately):
  • Nonstructural Furniture and Contents
    • Computers
    • Tall Shelving-Free Standing & Wall Unit
    • Library Shelving or Stacks
    • Tall File Cabinets
    • Drawers and Cabinets
    • Compressed-Gas Cylinders
    • Containers of Hazardous Materials
    • Fragile Artwork
    • Free-Standing Half-Height Partitions
    • Miscellaneous Furniture
    • Others (if any, list separately):
  • Structural Vulnerabilities
    • Unreinforced masonry construction
    • Cripple walls not bolted to foundation
    • Older, non-ductile concrete construction
    • Concrete tilt up construction with unanchored roof system
    • Soft story construction or other building irregularities
    • Unreinforced or unanchored brick elements in your building structure or facade
    • Others (if any, list separately):

Earthquake risk-reduction measures can range from inexpensive methods of securing building contents to more extensive and expensive structural modifications. The mix of measures that is optimal for your facilities will depend on factors such as the potential severity of the earthquake hazards in your locale, the current condition of your facilities, whether your workplace is owned or leased, and how vulnerable your operations are to facility damage and associated downtime.

Last Updated: 
01/18/2019 - 08:55