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As Rare Earthquakes Hit, Standards Support Safety

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake centered in Virginia sent rare tremors through the nation's capital and most of the eastern United States yesterday, reaching has far north as Maine and as far south as Georgia. The Tuesday afternoon quake followed hard on the heels of Colorado's largest natural earthquake in more than a century, which struck the state's southeast corner late Monday night.

FEMA Directory of Earthquake Partners

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Directory of Earthquake Partners lists more than 300 organizations involved in earthquake mitigation, including the following ANSI members:

  • American Concrete Institute
  • American Iron and Steel Institute
  • American Institute of Steel Construction
  • ASTM International
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
  • Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International
  • International Code Council (ICC)
  • International Facility Management Association (IFMA)
  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
  • National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS)
  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • Portland Cement Association

Access the full directory here.

Fortunately, while earthquakes are uncommon occurrences in these regions and many structures are not as stringently quake-proofed as those in higher seismic risk areas, very limited damage was reported. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the standardization community, a number of standards are in place to help protect lives and mitigate damage to critical infrastructure during and after an earthquake wherever it may strike.

Structural integrity and occupant safety is a key priority of ISO 4866:2010, Mechanical vibration and shock - Vibration of fixed structures - Guidelines for the measurement of vibrations and evaluation of their effects on structures. Measurement of vibration is carried out to determine if a structure is vibrating at such a level as to cause concern to occupants and equipment, and to establish whether structural integrity is at risk. ISO 4866:2010 establishes principles for measuring vibration and evaluating its effects on structures built above or below ground.

The standard was developed by International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 108, Mechanical vibration, shock and condition monitoring, Subcommittee (SC) 2, Measurement and evaluation of mechanical vibration and shock as applied to machines, vehicles and structures. The Acoustical Society of America serves as the secretariat for TC 108 on behalf of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and administers the ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO TC 108.

Another standard from ISO TC 108 can be used to determine how various high-tech systems—from computer components to aircraft frames to military vehicles—will respond to shock pulses associated with earthquakes, explosions, impacts, and other mechanical shocks. ISO 18431-4:2007, Mechanical vibration and shock—Signal processing—Part 4: Shock-response spectrum analysis, specifies methods for calculating a shock-response spectrum, or SRS, by digital means. An SRS graphically illustrates the relative strength of a shock pulse across frequencies.

When it comes to ensuring the safety of infrastructure such as buildings and bridges from earthquake damage, ISO 22762-1:2010, Elastomeric seismic-protection isolators - Part 1: Test methods, offers important guidance. The standard specifies methods for evaluating seismic isolators—the devices used in bridges and buildings to provide flexibility during seismic activity and to deflect the transmission of energy into the structure. The standard was developed by ISO Technical Committee (TC) 45, Rubber and rubber products, Subcommittee (SC) 4 - Products (other than hoses) . ANSI member and audited designator ASTM International administers the ANSI-accredited U.S. TAG to both committees, and is responsible for moving U.S. positions forward in this area.

Of course, the ability to communicate during or after an emergency is paramount to emergency responders and concerned family members alike. A standard developed by ANSI member and accredited standards developer the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) aims to ensure the basic functionality of telecommunications infrastructure and systems during and after an earthquake. Covering physical damage to systems, the disruption of service, and danger to personnel, ATIS-0600329.2008, Network Equipment Earthquake Resistance, defines test methods, performance requirements, and acceptance criteria to determine the resistance of telecommunications equipment to seismic activity.


Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


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