U.S. Geological Survey: Earthquake Monitoring


Roadway collapse from earthquake
Aerial view of collapsed sections of the Cypress viaduct of Interstate Highway 880 in Oct. 1989 in Oakland, CA.
Investigating building collapse
A search-and-rescue team in the Marina District wait for a building to be buttressed before entering the structure in Oct. 1989 in San Francisco, CA.

Earthquakes are one of the most costly natural hazards faced by the Nation, posing a significant threat to 75 million Americans in 39 states.

The timely delivery of earthquake information can mean the difference between life and death and requires critical infrastructure such as modern seismic networks and data processing centers so scientists can provide emergency responders with information to save lives and reduce economic losses.

In California and other high-hazards regions, some of the infrastructure of the current system is 40-years-old. Even earlier-upgraded systems date back to 1997 – think about what a 12-year-old computer looks like. Recovery Act funding would replace older instruments with state-of-the-art, robust systems across the highest earthquake hazard areas in California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Intermountain West, and the Central and Eastern US.

Recovery Act Funding

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $29.4 million for earthquake network upgrades.


Because the investments will modernize aging equipment at existing stations, they do not represent out-year commitments and the new equipment should lower future maintenance costs. The investments in earthquake monitoring meet criteria of actually being “temporary, targeted and timely” – spending that will flow directly into the economy.

The new state-of-the-art monitoring systems will be more energy efficient than the ones they replace and will make use of solar power in remote locations. Engaging students in the siting and installation will provide a unique educational experience and help to train the next generation of earthquake scientists.

The modernization of our nation’s earthquake networks will deliver faster, more reliable, robust information – helping to save lives in the wake of natural disasters that can strike at any time in many states across the nation.

The planned upgrades open the door to “earthquake early warning” – a technology in operation in Japan, Taiwan and Mexico that uses sensor detections at the earthquake epicenter to broadcast warnings to nearby areas about to be shaken.

Further information

DOI Recovery Investments by Bureau

Last Updated: February 02, 2012
Content contact: recovery@ios.doi.gov