Engaging With Earthquake Hazard and Risk

Jennifer Pickering, Alaska Pacific University and Anchorage School District
Erin Schneider, Anchorage School District
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This introductory activity engages learners with the study of earthquake hazards and the risk these hazards pose to humans in the communities in which we live. Learners are introduced to geologic site effects (such as sediment type, saturation, and depth) that affect the intensity of shaking experienced at any given location during an earthquake. Learners will compare three maps of Anchorage, AK, depicting spatial information related to seismic hazards to generate questions about additional factors besides site effects that influence shaking intensity and damage to the built environment during earthquakes.

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Suitable for learners from middle school and up.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should understand basic plate tectonics and the causes of earthquakes. Familiarity with seismic waves and how they travel through the Earth is also helpful. Activities that will help learners with the background knowledge for seismic waves are Human Wave: Modeling P and S Waves and Seismic Slinky.

How the activity is situated in the course

Prior to diving deeper into mitigation, use this activity to introduce some of the complexities of shaking intensity. Follow this activity with Geologic Hazard and the Built Environment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Learners will:

  • Recognize that shaking intensity varies with location during the same earthquake event
  • Understand that seismic hazard maps are useful planning tools, but they are not predictive of damage to structures during an earthquake
  • Generate questions about the factors, in addition to geologic site effects, that may contribute to severity of damage experienced by structures

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Analysis of data
  • Formulation of hypotheses
  • Synthesis of ideas

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Working in groups
  • Speaking and listening

Description and Teaching Materials


See attached file for educator notes, NGSS alignment, maps, and a brief lesson plan for a guided oral discussion using the Think-Pair-Share strategy. Also included are links to some resources on the background science of site effects.
Engaging With Earthquake Hazard and Risk Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 5.1MB Feb16 22)

Supporting presentation/audiovisual

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • Providing laminated copies of the maps and dry erase markers will make it easier for students to make comparisons between the Seismic Hazard map, and the shaking and/or damage maps.


Using the provided maps, the students will make a claim based on evidence: How does the seismic hazard zone compare to the damage and/or shaking you might experience during an earthquake? Student claims can be assessed orally, or collected in writing. This activity is introductory and assessment of student learning is considered formative in support of more complex subsequent activities.

References and Resources