a classroom activity written for 7-12 grades (easily adapted for 4-6 grades)

Developed by DeeDee O'Brien

Project funded by U.S. Geological Survey under the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP)

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Utah and Intermountain West Earthquakes

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We invite teachers and their students to study earthquakes via real accounts of earthquakes in our own region. It's easy with access to the Internet and this activity.

48 Intermountain West earthquakes that have occurred since 1876 have been researched by Earthquake Education Services (EES). Newspaper articles, individual accounts (diary entries, interviews, letters, etc.), scientific journal articles, and photographs have been collected. They are a primary data source for scientists and are valuable for anyone interested in learning about earthquakes. Data collection is ongoing. Additional information is always welcome.

USEFULNESS IN SCIENCE CLASSES (Intended Learning Outcomes)

  • Students will be accessing real scientific data. Newspaper articles are scientific data. They often provide the only information scientists have about an earthquake and its effects on buildings and people in specific locales.
  • Students will develop an understanding of earthquakes, in general, and of the local earthquake threat, through a study of the effects on people and places that previous earthquakes have had in their region.
  • Students will gain experience in recognizing and assessing relevant data.
  • Newspaper articles provide an entertaining, new, and relevant resource for students doing reports (introductory level) or searching for data to support or reject a hypothesis (more advanced level).



Activities use database of newspaper articles available on the Internet web site at:


Develop student understanding of earthquakes, in general, as well as the local earthquake threat, through a study of the effects earthquakes have had on people and places in their region.

Provide students with experience in recognizing and assessing relevant data.

Personalize the earthquake experience for students to develop an understanding of appropriate preparedness actions.


Forty-eight Intermountain West earthquakes that have occurred since 1876 have been researched by Earthquake Education Services (EES). Newspaper articles, individual accounts (diary entries, interviews, letters, etc.), and photographs have been collected. They are a primary data source for scientists and are valuable for anyone interested in learning about earthquakes. These can be accessed on the Internet at []. These data provide an entertaining, relevant resource for students studying earthquakes.

Students each select a research question (list provided) and search newspaper articles written about one or more earthquakes for data relevant to the question. Reports could be oral or written. Some of the questions can be reworded to allow students to first develop their own hypothesis, then search for data that supports or disproves the hypothesis.


Internet access to for data on individual earthquakes

Internet access to for the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.

Procedure: (There are two options 1 or 2, choose the one which best fits your needs)

Option 1. Research Questions/Topics

Oral and/or Written Reports - cooperative groups are recommended.

1. Select one earthquake from below under "Earthquakes Recommended for Student Study" and divide the questions found below under "REPORT TOPICS/QUESTIONS for Basic Activities" among the groups.


Assign each group a different earthquake and have each address the same question topic (or all questions) from "REPORT TOPICS/QUESTIONS for Basic Activities" located below.

2. After reports are given, facilitate a whole class discussion of the data and summation of what has been learned.

Option 2- Be a Scientist - individual or cooperative groups.

1. Invite students to think about moderate to large earthquakes in the Intermountain West. What do they sound like? Feel like? How long do they last? How far away are they felt? What changes take place on the Earth's surface? When do aftershocks occur? How many aftershocks occur?

Tell students that although we don't know what will happen in future earthquakes, we can learn from the experience of historic earthquakes in our region.

Provide the newspaper article database for several moderate to large earthquakes in this region. Select from the earthquakes listed below under "Earthquakes Recommended for Student Study". Ask each student to select one of the questions discussed, to form his/her own hypothesis, and to search the articles for data to support or disprove the hypothesis.


The Mercalli Scale of earthquake intensity is available at . This is a government site and the material can be used in your classroom.

Using the data for one earthquake from the list below "Earthquakes Recommended for Student Study", determine the level of damage (Modified Mercalli Intensity) for each town mentioned. Which town suffered the highest level of damage? What was its MMI?



A complete list of all earthquakes researched can be found on the EES web site at However, some of the earthquakes have very little data. They would be of particular interest if they occurred in your specific area or if you are researching a specific question.

Listed below are the earthquakes for which we have a significant amount of interesting data that will enhance student learning. The information for these earthquakes, including the MODIFIED MERCALLI INDEX data is available at the same web site just cited.


1901 Southern Utah Nov. 13th; 9:39 p.m. 6 +

1902 Pine Valley, UT Nov. 17th; 12:50 p.m. 6

1910 Salt Lake City, UT May 22nd; 7:28 a.m. 5 +

1921 Elsinore, UT series Sep. 29th; 7:12 a.m. 6

1925 Clarkston Valley, MT Jun. 27th; 6:21 p.m. About 6

1934 Hansel Valley, UT Mar. 12th; 8:05 a.m. 6.6

1935 Helena, MT series Oct. 18th; 9:48 p.m. 6 +

1959 Hebgen Lake, MT Aug. 17th; 11:37 p.m. 7.5

1962 Cache Valley, UT Aug. 30th; 6:35 a.m. 5.7

1962 Magna, UT Sep. 5th; 9:05 a.m. 5.2

1975 Pocatello Valley, UT Mar. 27th; 7:31 p.m. 6.0

1983 Borah Peak, ID Oct. 28th; 8:06 a.m. 7.3



(What can be learned about earthquakes from newspaper articles )


Describe the earthquake. What did it feel like? Sound like? How long did it last?


Did people realize immediately that they were experiencing an earthquake? If not, what did they think it was?


Describe any aftershocks. How many? Over how much time? What did they feel like? Sound like? How long did they last?


Was the earthquake magnitude (Richter Scale) reported? What scientific explanations were given about the earthquake?


About The PEOPLE

Describe how people felt during the earthquake. During aftershocks. After the earthquake.


What did people do during the earthquake?


Was anyone injured or killed? Were there any near misses? Did any injuries occur because people did not duck and cover during the earthquake?


Did the earthquake have any effect on people's daily lives? Were there any changes in routine after the earthquake?


Did any funny things happen during the earthquake?


What were people doing at the time the earthquake struck?


What did people do immediately after the earthquake?


About the DAMAGE

In what towns was the earthquake felt? Which town(s) seem to have the most damage?


What happened to buildings? Make a list of the types of damage reported. (e.g., chimneys fell, windows broke, etc.)


Make a list of specific buildings that were damaged and their locations. If the articles provide enough information, map the damage locations.


What happened to furnishings in buildings?


What changes did the earthquake cause to the surface of the Earth? Any landslides? Rockfalls? New fault scarps? Changes in water flow? (springs, rivers, wells.)


What, if anything, happened to roads? Airports? Electricity? Telephones? Gas lines?



About the region's ECONOMICS

Did the earthquake have any effect on businesses? Industry?

Were buildings damaged? Did any have to close, even temporarily?

Were there any estimates of repair costs given?


Were homes damaged? If so, did owners make repairs themselves or hire others?


Were schools, government buildings, churches damaged? Who pays for their repair?


Were there any benefits from the earthquake?



About after the earthquake during AID and RECOVERY

What aid, if any, was offered by local or national organizations? Government? Individuals?


List any safety measures that were put in place immediately after the earthquake.


What repairs were made to buildings? Were any torn down?


When were repairs made? (How long after the earthquake?)




1. Make a Connection to Your Own Life.

Review the time and day of week the earthquake occurred. What are you usually doing at that time/day? How might an earthquake affect you? What would you do to be safe?


2. Consider additional "WHAT IF?" questions.

If this size earthquake were to occur again in the same place (or in your own town), what do you think might happen?


Are the people any better prepared? Do they know that earthquakes can occur in their area?


Do they know what to do during an earthquake to be safe?


Do families, schools, businesses have emergency response plans?


Have old buildings been retrofitted to make them more resistant to ground shaking?


Are new buildings being designed and constructed to meet the Uniform Seismic Building Code?


Are houses being built to withstand ground shaking?


Is new construction being allowed on known fault scarps?


What could you do now to be better prepared?



3. DO SOMETHING to Prepare for an Earthquake.

A. Make your classroom (or bedroom or family room) more safe by moving heavy objects from high to low places.


B. Put on a preparedness fair using skits, posters, and reports, etc. to teach others (one classroom, one grade level, whole school, or parents) what to expect to happen in earthquakes and what to do to be safe.


4. STUDENT RESEARCH of historical earthquakes which happened in your area.

Gathering new data about effects of past earthquakes in our own region will benefit many: the student researcher, historians, the community affected by the earthquake, and the scientific community.

Students learn about local earthquakes while conducting the research.

  • gain experience in historical research.
  • gain experience in writing up research results.
  • may have their research published on the University of Utah's World Wide Web site.

Historians gain documentation of earthquake effects on local communities people and specific buildings.

The Earthquake Scientific Community (and thus the local community)

  • develop better understanding of how specific sites and structures on them respond to groundshaking
  • use that data for potentially more effective emergency response planning
  • use that data to make informed decisions about appropriate engineering design of new structures and land use planning.



1. Contribute to the database of personal accounts of earthquake experiences in the Intermountain West states of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, or Montana.

A. ORAL HISTORIES. Interview someone who experienced an earthquake in one of these states. Tape record and transcribe your interview. Or, have the person write down the experience. Be sure to include as specific a location as possible (e.g.; second floor of a two-story house at 155 E. Oliver St. in Salt Lake City, Utah; in a field 15 miles north of Ogden, Utah). Obtain copies of any photographs documenting earthquake effects or obtain permission for University of Utah Seismograph Stations to have the photo duplicated. (A simplified Oral History form is attached.)


B. DO A LIBRARY SEARCH for journals of people who were living in the area affected by a particular earthquake or search for town or county histories that might include descriptions of the earthquake. Potentially good library sources include Utah State Historical Society, universities such as Univ. of Utah, Utah State Univ., Southern Utah Univ., Brigham Young Univ., and the LDS Church.



Use list of buildings damaged that you compiled from newspaper accounts. Research public records for information about what was done to repair the building, cost of repair, amount of time building was out of use. Is the building in use today?


Individual Account of Earthquake Experience submitted by ___________________________



PHONE (day)________________________


PHONE (evening)_____________________


STATE__________________ ZIP_________________


Date of Earthquake (Month and Year)_________________________ Time ___________________


Where were you? City________________________________________State___________


If you were inside, describe building and specific room (e.g.; 2-story house in upstairs bedroom). If outside, describe location (e.g.; sidewalk in front of department store).




What were you doing when the earthquake occurred?



What happened? What did you see, hear, feel? What did you and those around you do?





How did you feel?




Additional Information (use back of paper to complete your description)