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The U.S. and Canada Use Hazus to Mitigate Earthquake Risk

Public agencies in the U.S. and Canada used Hazus in a collaborative project to determine the potential impact of earthquakes and other natural disasters across the Pacific Northwest, a region with multiple vulnerabilities.

Lewis County, Washington is preparing for what they call the “big one.” Earthquakes in the county are rare, but the probability of a large seismic event increases along with the time since the last recorded earthquake. The county is using Hazus software to model the potential impacts of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, during which 2,314 buildings could experience moderate to substantial damage. These model results are informing the county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan updates and driving preventative actions like structural improvements to schools and buildings.

Damage at the back of the TrueValue building in downtown Centralia following the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001.
Damage is seen at the back of the TrueValue building in downtown Centralia following the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001.
The Chronicle/ File Photo

In August 2014, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in nearby Napa Valley produced more than $400 million in damages. Inspectors checked for damage and cross-referenced it with Hazus estimates. A post-quake survey revealed that less than one in ten Napa homeowners have earthquake insurance, something that insurers are now trying to resolve.

To predict the devastation that could occur from a similar event in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada used a modified version of FEMA’s Hazus software. British Columbia chose to model a 7.3-magnitude earthquake with an epicenter at Vancouver’s city center. The province used the results in drafting an adaptable, catastrophic emergency plan to address residents’ concerns that the region was not prepared for a disastrous earthquake.

These efforts demonstrate the importance of Hazus risk assessments for large regions with significant seismic risk. Hazus can be a particularly powerful tool for governments that are preparing response plans and advocating the cost-effectiveness of seismic upgrades.