Earthquakes: Causes and Consequences

March 19, 1969

Report Outline
Unequal Contest of Man vs. Earthquake
Extent of Losses in Noteworthy Quakes
Earthquake Measurement and Prediction
Special Focus

Unequal Contest of Man vs. Earthquake

Proposals for Reducing Losses From Quakes

Earthquakes are among the most common, the most destructive, and the most terrifying of natural disasters. It is estimated that possibly as many as a million temblors of varying degrees of intensity occur every year. The great majority of them pass virtually unnoticed except by seismologists. But each year brings its share of violent quakes that leave behind death, fires, toppled buildings, and tidal waves. Occasionally the topography of entire regions is substantially altered.

The great earthquake that hit Alaska just five years ago—on March 27, 1964—was so devastating that the White House asked the National Research Council, an affiliate of the National Academy of Sciences, to conduct an exhaustive study of the disaster and its consequences. Now, after five years of work, the council's Committee on the Alaska Earthquake has recommended a national program which it believes would substantially reduce losses of life and property in future earthquakes.

Among the proposals are (1) revision of building code requirements and engineering practices to give greater protection against earthquake shocks; (2) detailed evaluation of earthquake hazards in heavily populated seismic areas prior to construction of schools, hospitals, etc.; (3) development of earthquake and tidal wave warning systems, not to attempt forecasting of the time or specific location of earthquakes (which the committee said was impossible), but to indicate the probability of quakes in a certain region; (4) advance arrangements for collection of data on major quakes wherever they occur; and (5) development of more effective systems of earthquake insurance.

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