Seismic Design Requirements for Regions of Moderate Seismicity

Guy J.P. Nordenson, Glenn R. Bell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The need for earthquake-resistant construction in areas of low-to-moderate seismicity has been recognized through the adoption of code requirements in the United States and other countries only in the past quarter century. This is largely a result of improved assessment of seismic hazard and examples of recent moderate earthquakes in regions of both moderate and high seismicity, including the San Fernando (1971), Mexico City (1985), Loma Prieta (1989), and Northridge (1994) earthquakes. In addition, improved understanding and estimates of older earthquakes in the eastern United States such as Cape Ann (1755), La Malbaie, Quebec (1925), and Ossippe, New Hampshire (1940), as well as monitoring of micro-activity in source areas such as La Malbaie, have increased awareness of the earthquake potential in areas of low-to-moderate seismicity. Both the hazard and the risk in moderate seismic zones (MSZs) differ in scale and kind from those of the zones of high seismicity. Earthquake hazards mitigation measures for new and existing construction need to be adapted from those prevailing in regions of high seismicity in recognition of these differences. Site effects are likely to dominate the damage patterns from earthquakes, with some sites suffering no damage not far from others, on soft soil, suffering near collapse. A number of new seismic codes have been developed in the past quarter century in response to these differences, including the New York City (1995) and the Massachusetts State (1975) seismic codes. Over the same period, the national model building codes that apply to most areas of low-to-moderate seismicity in the United States, the Building Officials and Code Administrators (BOCA) Code and the Southern Standard Building Code (SSBC), have incorporated up-to-date seismic provisions. The seismic provisions of these codes have been largely inspired by the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) recommendations. Through adoption of these national codes, many state and local authorities in areas of low-to-moderate seismicity now have reasonably comprehensive seismic design provisions. This paper will review the background and history leading up to the MSZ codes, discuss their content, and propose directions for future development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-225
Number of pages21
JournalEarthquake Spectra
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2000

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geophysics


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