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The second primary earthquake hazard, ground shaking, is the result of rapid ground acceleration.

Ground shaking can vary over an area as a result of factors such as topography, bedrock type and the
location and orientation of the fault rupture.

These all affect the way the seismic waves travel through the ground. If an earthquake generates
enough shaking intensity , built structures can be severely damaged and cliffs and sloping ground can be
temporarily or permanently destabilised. In large earthquakes, whole districts can be devastated by the
consequences of ground shaking.

Ground displacement is how far the surface moves during the earthquake. It can cause the ground to
change position in both horizontal and vertical directions and move relative to objects or other areas of
land nearby.
Ground velocity is a measure of how quickly the ground was displaced – the speed and direction that
the ground moved to get from its original location to its new location. Ground that moves with a higher
velocity is also displaced more quickly.
Ground acceleration is a measure of how quickly the ground changes velocity during the earthquake.
Ground acceleration is responsible for the classic earthquake shaking effect where the ground rapidly
changes direction in a violent back and forward and up and down motion.
Displacement, velocity and acceleration are also responsible for several secondary effects on the
ground, including liquefaction, settlement and lateral movement, which can compromise the soil’s
ability to support objects on the surface.

Structural stress
Ground shaking is also the primary way an earthquake affects buildings. The rapid acceleration of the
ground beneath the building creates inertial forces in the structure. This can cause damage if they
become too large or the building is not designed to withstand them.

Earthquake shaking causes movement on all three principal axes.


Under normal conditions, a built structure is subject to steady gravitational loads. However, during an
earthquake, ground shaking can impose strong lateral loads. If the structure is not designed to withstand
them, the additional lateral loads associated with seismic shaking can cause it to fail.

Earthquake shaking causes movement on all three principal axes (up and down, left and right, forward
and back). Lateral movement in the horizontal plane (left and right, forward and back) can place
additional stress on structural elements normally intended to only carry vertical loads, such as walls,
columns and beams.

Building damage from ground shaking.


Several factors influence the degree of damage a building can sustain when subjected to ground
shaking. (BRANZ)

In buildings, these elements are usually designed to withstand an appropriate degree of lateral
movement, such as that caused by wind or seismic loading. However, if the earthquake shaking force
exceeds the downward force, in beams, for example, due to a combination of gravity and vertical
earthquake acceleration, it may place the element under excessive stress.

When this occurs, unreinforced structures may lose integrity and distort, crack or collapse. Elements
that do not undergo a catastrophic failure may still be weakened, reducing their ability to carry their
original design loads.
The degree of movement and stress a structure can withstand during an earthquake depends on several
factors, including:
 the age and state of repair of the structure
 the inherent strength, rigidity and stability of the structure’s design
 design characteristics intended to reduce the damaging effects of shaking
 the properties of the materials used to build the structure (concrete, steel, timber and so on)
 the quality of building construction
 any seismic resilience devices that have been added to isolate, dampen or transfer damaging
effects
 the size of earthquake that the building was originally designed to withstand.

Ground shaking is the primary cause of earthquake damage to man-made structures. When the ground
shakes strongly, buildings can be damaged or destroyed and their occupants may be injured or killed.

Seismologists have observed that some districts tend to repeatedly experience stronger seismic shaking
than others. This is because the ground under these districts is relatively soft. Soft soils amplify ground
shaking. If you live in an area that in past earthquakes suffered shaking stronger than that felt in other
areas at comparable distance from the source, you are likely to experience relatively strong shaking in
future earthquakes as well. An example of this effect was observed in San Francisco, where many of the
same neighborhoods were heavily damaged in both the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. The influence of
the underlying soil on the local amplification of earthquake shaking is called the site effect.

Other factors influence the strengh of earthquake shaking at a site as well, including the earthquake's
magnitude and the site's proximity to the fault. These factors vary from earthquake to earthquake. In
contrast, soft soil always amplifies shear waves. If an earthquake is strong enough and close enough to
cause damage, the damage will usually be more severe on soft soils.

Buildings can even sink into the ground if soil liquefaction occurs. Liquefaction is the mixing of sand or
soil and groundwater (water underground) during the shaking of a moderate or strong earthquake.
When the water and soil are mixed, the ground becomes very soft and acts similar to quicksand. If
liquefaction occurs under a building, it may start to lean, tip over, or sink several feet. The ground firms
up again after the earthquake has past and the water has settled back down to its usual place deeper in
the ground. Liquefaction is a hazard in areas that have groundwater near the surface and sandy soil.

Buildings can also be damaged by strong surface waves making the ground heave and lurch. Any
buildings in the path of these surface waves can lean or tip over from all the movement. The ground
shaking may also cause landslides, mudslides, and avalanches on steeper hills or mountains, all of which
can damage buildings and hurt people.