The greatest risk of dying during an earthquake comes from collapsing structures and flying debris. Thanks to Japan's stringent seismic building codes, during the 2011 magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake, fewer than 600 people were crushed by falling rubble, according to Japan's National Police Agency. More than 90 percent of the country's deaths were from drowning during the ensuing tsunami.
But in China, where seismic building codes are often flouted, the magnitude-8.0 Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 killed more than 69,000 people. In 2010, an even smaller quake, a magnitude-7.0, killed more than 220,000 people in Haiti.
Japan spends five times more money on reducing its earthquake damage risk than the United States, said Ross Stein, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's office in Menlo Park, Calif. Stein is the co-founder of an international nonprofit called the Global Earthquake Model (GEM). GEM's aim is to freely provide the same sophisticated earthquake risk-assessment tools used by Japan to poorer countries. Continue Reading