Observations of the Behavior of Steel Frame Structures in Historic Earthquakes 

Since the 1906 Great San Francisco Earthquake, numerous steel buildings have been shaken by strong earthquakes. Most recently, modern welded steel moment frames in the United States and Japan have been subjected to some of the strongest motions ever recorded, exhibiting varying levels of structural performance. 

The use of structural steel for building construction is a relatively young concept.  Numerous factors have contributed to the growth of this market, and in the Western United States the generally favorable performance of Steel Buildings in earthquakes prior to 1994 no doubt played a significant role.  Specifically four earthquakes in California and Japan (San Francisco, Kanto, Santa Barbara and Long Beach) during the first part of this century gave engineers confidence in steel as a reliable material for earthquake resistant design.  During these events, there were typically fewer problems observed in steel structures as compared with concrete and masonry buildings of similar size and scale. 

The second half of this century has seen tremendous advances in the understanding go earthquakes and in the design of structures of all types to withstand strong ground motions.  As the large urban regions on the west coast  of the United States have developed over the past few decades, large numbers of steel buildings have been constructed because of their perceived safety, cost and architectural  flexibility. Presented below are brief summaries of steel building performance in California and Japanese earthquakes. 

  • 1906 San Francisco Earthquake
  • 1923 Great Kanto (Tokyo, Japan) Earthquake
  • 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake
  • 1933 Long Beach Earthquake
  • 1964 Anchorage Earthquake
  • 1971 San Fernando Earthquake
  • 1985 Mexico City Earthquake
  • 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake
  • 1994 Northridge Earthquake
  • 1995 Hyogoken-Nanbu Earthquake
  Design Information  Project Description  Technical Background  Reference Library 
Technical Studies  Test Program  Ordering Publications  Search 
SAC Steel Project | 1301 S. 46th Street | Richmond, CA 94804-4698 | sacsteel@sacsteel.org | +1 510-231-9557 | +1 510-231-5664 fax