Over the past 100 years, estimates hold that more than 1.5 million people have been killed in earthquake-related disasters. These fatalities are "earthquake-related" because they're not caused directly by the shaking of the Earth. Earthquakes tend to instigate other disasters, such as tsunamis, landslides and fires, which cause most of the fatalities. Earthquakes can also cause buildings to collapse, which can then lead to additional deaths.
Scientists are working on ways to predict the earthquakes that cause all of this death and destruction. If we can predict when and where an earthquake will take place, residents of the area can have the opportunity to temporarily evacuate or to take preventive safety measures. Today, seismographs tell geologists when seismic waves have already begun, letting them know that stronger waves are on the way. However, this process gives only a few minutes' warning before the strong waves of an earthquake hit. Scientists have some working theories on how to predict earthquakes before they begin. One area of research focuses on the magnetic and electrical charges in rock materials. Some experts have hypothesized that these electromagnetic fields undergo measurable transformations before an earthquake occurs. Seismologists also are studying gas seepage and changes in the orientation of the ground to see if there are any patterns that can help predict earthquakes.
Even if we can't predict when an earthquake will arrive, we can design our cities to be as earthquake-resistant as possible. Damage to buildings is a serious cause of human injury and death during an earthquake. Over the years, engineers have begun to design buildings with earthquakes in mind. The Uniform Building Code was finalized in 1973 as a set of international building standards - - the code includes recommendations for how buildings should be constructed to withstand seismic disturbances. The goal is a balance between materials that are strong enough to provide structural support for the weight of the building, but also flexible enough to absorb the earthquake's vibrations without collapsing.
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