Using Satellites and Aircraft to Find Faults and Other Hazards


Commission Grantee Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL)

JPL Uses NASA Technology to Map Earthquake Faults from Space


JPL, a research facility of NASA operated by Caltech, has been working with the California Seismic Safety Commission to identify NASA technologies that can be used to increase monitoring, safety, and recovery from earthquakes. One of the key sets of technologies is to use aerial radar imaging of Earth, from satellite and aircraft, to help understand and respond to major earthquakes. The JPL report identifies several areas where their technology can help the people of California.

Space-based imaging uses satellites with multiple kinds of radars to map the Earth. A specific kind of radar, called Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR, can measure the height of the ground and using multiple before and after passes, and identify where there has been earth movement and how much. Space-based SAR can cover a 100km-wide band, and quickly. Once identified from space, airborne SAR, with higher resolution and ease of deployment relative to the satellite based systems, can then take measurements of target areas identified by the satellites to help responders know where faults have slipped and identify potential issues.

This technology has been used several times in recent years, assisting in the Napa response and La Habra earthquakes. JPL and Caltech developed and are enhancing the Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) Center for Natural Hazards and it was this center that provided the data after the Napa earthquake in 2014. The Center is now active and providing rapid response data to the user community.  The quote below, from the Director of the AEM in Mexico, reflects the impact of ARIA’s work after the 2017 earthquakes in Mexico.

“Your valuable contribution through NASA Earth Science Disasters Program, made it possible – in collaboration with other governments of Mexico – to take the appropriate decisions for mapping damage, rescuing and eventually recovery of the damage, as well as to address and inform to the population about the affected zones and the areas prone to further risk.” Francisco Javier Mendieta Jimenez, Director, AEM After the M7.1 Central Mexico Earthquake


California to Learn Lessons from the September 2017 Earthquakes in Mexico

Seismic Safety Commission and Cooperation with Mexico

An Intergovernmental Effort to Help Improve Resilience and Response

California and Mexico share more than a long border, they share a common threat from earthquakes.  At the November 2017 Commission meeting Commissioners Miyamoto and Meneses, plus Dr. Sang-Ho Yun from JPL (a commission partner organization) presented their findings on Lessons Learned from the September 2017 Puebla-Mexico City M 7.1 earthquake.  This work was designed to gather lessons learned and apply them to reduce California’s earthquake risk.

The Commisison worked with teams from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) Instituto de Ingenieria, the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) team (funded by NSF) during the period September 24-30, 2017 and visited Mexico City, Puebla and Morelos, the Valsequillo Dam and the Epicentral area.  A detailed report from GEER can be found here.

Some of the benefits from the field work include the following:

  • Strengthened collaboration between Mexico and USA (California)
  • UNAM-Instituto de Ingenieria will participate (in addition to CICESE). The two leading earthquake research centers in Mexico will now partner
  • There is improved knowledge of building stock and seismic behavior in Mexico which can inform similar structures in the US
  • The importance of local site effects on seismic response of buildings and infrastructure
  • The limitations of building codes (if they are not enforced, they have no impact)
  • The value of developing community-based policies

Commissioner Kit Miyamoto and Learnings from the 2017 Mexico Earthquakes

Seismic Safety Commissioner Interviewed on Sacramento Channel 10 and Discusses Lessons Learned From Mexican Earthquakes

In November 2017, Channel 10 in Sacramento ran a story in their “Beyond the Headlines” series featuring Kit Miyamoto, structural engineer and member of the California Seismic Safety Commission. Commissioner Miyamoto, an expert on the structural dimensions of earthquake preparedness and safety, was interviewed by reporter Lilia Luciano, who accompanied him to impacted sites in Mexico City during the earthquake recovery efforts.

In the interview, Commissioner Miyamoto identifies major structural failures in Mexico that could have been minimized by seismic retrofit. He also explains the parallels between the underlying geology of the impacted areas in Mexico and Sacramento, highlighting how buildings in the State’s capital are at similar risk to those that failed during the Mexico quakes. He also explains that many buildings in Sacramento would benefit from the kinds of retrofit he recommended for Mexico and discusses the value of investing in seismic retrofit.

Commissioner Miyamoto also identifies the benefits, in terms of lower injury and death, from Mexico’s Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) System. California is working on a similar system for statewide deployment under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) with the support of the Seismic Safety Commission.

Seismic Safety Commission Holds November 2017 Meeting at Mexican Consulate, Emphasizing the Importance of Cooperation Between Mexico and the US on Earthquake Safety

The California Seismic Safety Commission held its November 9, 2017, meeting at the Mexican Consulate in Sacramento to highlight the cooperation between California and Mexico on earthquake issues and to review preliminary lessons learned from the devastating Mexican earthquakes earlier in the year.

Commissioner Kit Miyamoto, an expert on the structural dimensions of earthquake preparedness and safety, was in the impacted areas of the September 2017 earthquakes in Puebla, Mexico, while victims of the earthquake were still being located. He gave his firsthand impressions of what failed and what worked in terms of structural safety and shared his experiences in the recovery effort.

Also presenting on Mexico at the November meeting was Dr. San-Ho Yu of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a NASA research facility operated by Cal Tech. His presentation covered the use of the FINDER system after the Mexican earthquakes of 2017 to help locate people buried under the rubble, improving rescue and saving lives. The FINDER system is one of the NASA developed technologies identified by JPL, a Seismic Safety Commission partner and grantee, for use during and after an earthquake.