Earthquake Scenarios

An earthquake scenario is a planning tool that helps us understand earthquakes and plan for the future. A successful scenario tells the story of a defined earthquake and its specific impacts. It draws the reader in by incorporating familiar aspects of the community that they can readily recognize. It helps decision makers to visualize specific impacts that are based on currently accepted scientific and engineering knowledge.

Few regions have fully formed response plans for earthquakes. Even fewer regions have mitigation plans in place that involve the various segments of a community. A scenario improves awareness of what an earthquake can do to a community as a whole.

There is heightened interest in scenario development throughout the country. Scenarios can be extremely effective tools to enable communities to reduce their earthquake risk. By enabling communities to improve their understanding of earthquakes and their own specific level of risk, community leaders and individuals are able to adopt the most appropriate techniques, policies and programs to reduce their risk.

Earthquake scenarios in general provide opportunities to examine alternative futures and stimulate creative thinking about the need for new policies and programs. Incorporating the latest scientific, engineering and societal knowledge about a region’s seismic hazard, local soil characteristics, building types, lifelines, and population characteristics, a scenario can create a compelling picture that members of the local community can recognize and relate to. Not only can such a scenario stimulate new policies and programs, the process of scenario development itself often results in greater understanding and improved trust and communication between members of the scientific, engineering, emergency management, and policy communities resulting in a “new community” dedicated to seismic risk reduction.

EERI is widely recognized for its leadership role in scenario development, having been instrumental in the preparation of several major earthquake scenarios within the past 15 years. Scenarios for the Hayward Fault and the Seattle Fault have already been completed. EERI is currently involved in the NEHRP Scenario Project, with NEHRP funding support, to develop and carry out a national workshop to promote the development and use of scenarios and to develop guidelines for use by jurisdictions to develop their own scenarios. EERI is also currently involved in efforts to develop new scenarios in the central U.S., focusing on the New Madrid Seismic region; in Southern California, focusing on the southern San Andreas Fault ; and in northern California, focusing once again on the Hayward Fault.