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Open-File Report 2009–1136

Estimating Casualties for Large Earthquakes Worldwide Using an Empirical Approach

By Kishor Jaiswal, David J. Wald, and Mike Hearne

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We developed an empirical country- and region-specific earthquake vulnerability model to be used as a candidate for post-earthquake fatality estimation by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response (PAGER) system. The earthquake fatality rate is based on past fatal earthquakes (earthquakes causing one or more deaths) in individual countries where at least four fatal earthquakes occurred during the catalog period (since 1973).

Because only a few dozen countries have experienced four or more fatal earthquakes since 1973, we propose a new global regionalization scheme based on idealization of countries that are expected to have similar susceptibility to future earthquake losses given the existing building stock, its vulnerability, and other socioeconomic characteristics.

The fatality estimates obtained using an empirical country- or region-specific model will be used along with other selected engineering risk-based loss models for generation of automated earthquake alerts. These alerts could potentially benefit the rapid-earthquake-response agencies and governments for better response to reduce earthquake fatalities. Fatality estimates are also useful to stimulate earthquake preparedness planning and disaster mitigation.

The proposed model has several advantages as compared with other candidate methods, and the country- or region-specific fatality rates can be readily updated when new data become available.

First posted August 10, 2009

For additional information contact:

Science Center Chief Scientist,
USGS Geologic Hazards
Box 25046, Mail Stop 966
Denver, CO 80225

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Suggested citation:

Jaiswal, K.S., Wald, D.J., and Hearne, M., 2009, Estimating casualties for large earthquakes worldwide using an empirical approach: U.S Geological Survey Open-File Report, OF 2009-1136, 78 p.


Executive Summary


Earthquake Fatalities Worldwide


Goodness of Fit

Sources of Uncertainty

Need for Regionalization

Human Development Index

Climate Classification

Model Implementation

Example Analysis
















United States

Fatality Estimation for Recent Earthquakes

Summary and Conclusions


References Cited

Appendix I. PAGER Regionalization Scheme for the Empirical Mode

Appendix II. PAGER Implementation of Empirical Model

Appendix III An Automated Alerts and Comments Development Methodology for the lossPAGER system

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