Kids' Environmental Report Card: Earthquakes

Should new houses be built on earthquake fault lines?

What would the survivors of 1994's Northridge, California, earthquake say? This major quake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and displaced more than 20,000 people from their homes.

Ask most kids the same question and you'd get a definite "yes" — but only if houses can be built to survive earthquakes — according to the Kids' Environmental Report Card poll.

Ironically, many of the structures destroyed in the Northridge earthquake had been built to withstand such seismic events. This fact seems to support the views of kids in the poll who said that building homes in earthquake-prone areas was "way too dangerous."

Records show that, over the past 300 years, more than 200 major quakes have rocked California and nearby Nevada and the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. Laws have been passed, requiring earthquake-proof construction in these areas, especially for hospitals and schools.

Built to be Shaken

Earthquake-proof buildings are usually built of reinforced concrete of steel. These buildings are bolstered by coils or other flexible supports, placed between the building and its foundation. This way, as an earthquake moves the foundation in one direction, the support moves the other direction, and the building stays puts. Earthquake-proof structures are also strengthened by cross-supports in between the main frame supports. These added supports hold the structure together during a seismic event.

Engineers agree that no building is 100 percent earthquake-proof. However, most agree that the best designed and constructed home can endure even the most powerful earthquake long enough for its occupants to escape without harm.