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Revising the areal extent of post-earthquake

inspections of dams in Quebec1
Maurice Lamontagne and Oscar Dascal

Abstract: Post-earthquake inspection is required by many dam safety regulations. Typically, based on the magnitude of
the earthquake, the guidelines define an area within which dams should be inspected. The areas are established on
ground-motion relations derived for the western United States. In eastern North America (ENA), the attenuation is
slower with distance from the earthquake epicentre, and as a consequence the inspection area should be significantly
larger than that recommended by the current guidelines. We review the state of knowledge on earthquake damage to
dams, the factors used to define post-earthquake inspections, and the earthquake characteristics used to define the
guidelines. We recommend new radii of inspections for dams applicable in ENA, including the Province of Quebec.
Derived from historical earthquake information, the proposed new radii of inspections are twofold to sixfold larger than
the 1988 guidelines of the International Commission on Large Dams. It is also suggested that a half-magnitude unit be
added to every magnitude rapidly released by seismological organizations to include the intrinsic uncertainty in magnitude values and types. Our proposed approach is only one avenue that dam owners can follow to comply with dam
safety regulations. Irrespective of the avenue chosen, however, this paper emphasizes the need for dam owners to consider the lower ground motion attenuation in ENA.
Key words: earthquake, damage, dam, inspection, natural hazards, emergency response.
Rsum : Linspection post-sisme est requise par plusieurs recommandations de scurit des barrages. Suivant la magnitude du sisme, les rgles actuelles dfinissent une rgion lintrieur de laquelle les barrages doivent tre inspects. Les rgions sont dfinies daprs les relations dattnuation des ondes sismiques drives pour lOuest amricain.
Dans lest de lAmrique du Nord (EAN), lattnuation partir de lpicentre est plus faible, ce qui se traduit par des
rgions dinspection beaucoup plus vastes que celles gnralement recommandes. Cet article fait un survol de ltat
des connaissances des dommages subis par les barrages lors de sismes, des facteurs utiliss pour dfinir les inspections post-sismes et des caractristiques sismologiques utilises dans la dfinition des recommandations. Cet article
recommande de nouveaux rayons dinspection pour les barrages dans lEAN, y compris dans la province de Qubec.
Drivs des renseignements sur les sismes historiques, les critres dinspection proposs reprsentent un accroissement
variant entre 2 6 par rapport aux normes de la Commission Internationale des Grands Barrages de 1988. On suggre
aussi lajout dune demie unit de magnitude aux valeurs de magnitude diffuses rapidement par les observatoires sismologiques afin de compenser lincertitude intrinsque des valeurs et types de magnitude. Lapproche que nous proposons nest quune des avenues que peuvent suivre les oprateurs de barrages pour rpondre aux recommandations de
scurit des barrages. Peu importe lavenue que choisiront les propritaires de barrages, cet article souligne
limportance de considrer la faible attnuation des ondes sismiques dans lEAN.
Mots cls : tremblement de terre, dommages, barrages, inspection, risques naturels, intervention durgence.
Lamontagne and Dascal


Earthquake ground motions can represent a significant threat
to dams and their appurtenant structures because they can induce
significant damage and possible structural failure. In the event of
damage, immediate action may be necessary to prevent further

weakening that can lead to catastrophic failure. Inspecting the

structures should therefore be the first action after an earthquake.
Such post-earthquake inspections are recommended, and even
required, by many governmental and professional organizations.
For an earthquake of a given magnitude,4 areas where
damage occurs is much larger in eastern North America

Received 12 July 2005. Accepted 28 April 2006. Published on the NRC Research Press Web site at http://cgj.nrc.ca on
28 October 2006.
M. Lamontagne.2 Natural Resources Canada, 588 Booth Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0Y7, Canada.
O. Dascal.3 4444, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montral, QC H3Z 1E4, Canada.

Natural Resources Canada Earth Science Sector Contribution 2005007.

Corresponding author (e-mail: maurice.lamontagne@nrcan.gc.ca).
Former Hydro-Qubec dam safety specialist, now retired.
To facilitate the reading of the paper a glossary of most technical terms is added. The first occurrence of a term that appears in
the glossary is set in italics.

Can. Geotech. J. 43: 10151027 (2006)


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(ENA) than in western North America (WNA) (Nuttli 1972)

(Fig. 1). The main objective of this paper is to define inspection guidelines that better apply to the eastern North American context. The paper provides an overview of the
historical impacts of earthquakes on dams and presents some
of the current guidelines for post-earthquake inspections of
dams and their application in Quebec. We then propose revised guidelines that deal with the uncertainty on magnitude
values and types and how local intensity information can be
used when communications are interrupted. Based on past
ENA earthquakes, this paper documents the selection of new
epicentral distances for inspections of dams in ENA, which
includes the Province of Quebec. Given the magnitude of
the earthquake, we define the extent of the area within
which inspection is warranted for dams and appurtenant
structures. Lastly, conclusions on the new guidelines are

Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 43, 2006

Fig. 1. Comparison between the MMI V and MMI VI areas for
two earthquakes of M 6 (1983 Coalinga and 1988 Saguenay)
and two earthquakes of M 7 (1889 Charleston and 1946 Vancouver Island). Much larger MMI V and MMI VI areas are evident for the Saguenay and Charleston earthquakes.

Earthquakes and dam safety

Much information exists on the behaviour of dams during
earthquakes (USCOLD 1992, 2000). Historically, earthquakes have caused very few dam failures (release of the
reservoir water), and these were mainly tailings or
hydraulic-fill dams or relatively old, small, earthfill embankments of perhaps inadequate design (USCOLD 2000). The
damage that can be inflicted by earthquakes without inducing failure is as follows: (i) opening of fissures, (ii) settlement of the dam crest, (iii) loss of freeboard,
(iv) liquefaction of the dam core or its foundation, (v) overtopping by seismically induced waves, and (vi) reservoir
slope slides (ICOLD 1983).
The threat posed by earthquakes comes from two sources,
namely a fault rupturing through the structure, and the effect
of strong ground motions. A fault rupture reaching the surface is considered extremely unlikely in ENA. Although all
earthquakes occur on faults, even the largest ENA earthquakes are moderate in size (magnitude M < 7), and their
hypocentres are in the 715 km depth range (see, for example, Charlevoix in Lamontagne et al. 2003). Historically,
only one ENA earthquake was associated with a surface rupture, the 1989 Ungava earthquake (Adams et al. 1991).
Other ENA geological faults do not show geologically recent
movement. Since the probability of an ENA fault rupturing a
structure is extremely small, the seismic hazard evaluation of
Hydro-Qubec dams considers just the impact of strong
ground motions (Hydro-Qubec 2001).
Concrete dams have shown good resistance to earthquake
strong ground motions (Wieland 2003). This is probably due
to the fact that very few large dams have been exposed to the
strong ground shaking of the maximum credible earthquake
(MCE) that a dam must be designed to resist in accordance
with the currently accepted seismic design criteria of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). There
are, however, some examples of earthquake damage to concrete dams, such as the Hsinfengkiang Dam in the Peoples
Republic of China (19 March 1962, M 6.1) and the Konya
Dam in India (fissurations; 10 December 1967, surface-wave
magnitude MS 6.5). Both earthquakes were reservoirtriggered earthquakes (USCOLD 1997), which means that
they were shallow and beneath the reservoirs in the vicinity

of the dams. Recently, on 25 October 2003, two moment

magnitude MW 5.8 earthquakes 6 min apart jolted the
Shuangshusi and Zhaizhaiizi dams in the Peoples Republic
of China, producing two cracks, 0.5 and 0.1 m wide, respectively (ConnectingPower 2003).
There are also examples of earthquake damage to
embankment-type dams. A notable example is the Van Norman Dam near Los Angeles that was damaged during the
9 February 1971 MW 6.6 San Fernando earthquake
(USCOLD 1992). A large slice of the upstream face of the
dam (up to the dam crest) slid into the reservoir. During the
same earthquake, two dams were damaged severely (Lower
Van Norman Dam and Pacoima Dam), and three others sustained minor damage. In Japan, the distribution of earth
dams damaged by earthquakes illustrates a relationship between the maximum epicentral distance and the earthquake
magnitude (Tani 2000) (Fig. 2; Table 1).
In eastern Canada, many dams of various types have been
subject to earthquake strong ground motions, but no dam
was ever damaged. During the 25 November 1988 MW 5.9
Saguenay earthquake, for instance, concrete and earth dams
within 300 km of the epicentre were subject to strong
ground motions, but none of them suffered significant damage (Lger et al. 2003). Another example is the 19 October
1990 MW 4.5 Mont-Laurier earthquake that did not damage
any of a series of dams within 50 km of the epicentre. In
contrast, the relatively small 1997 MW 4.5 Cap-Rouge earthquake caused slight water seepage in the Alcan 40 m high
Isle Maligne gravity dam located some 200 km from the epicentre. This last event illustrates the very large radius of
damage potential of eastern Canadian earthquakes, especially for brittle structures like concrete dams (Lger et al.
2003). Earthquakes in the M 4 to M 5 range occur almost
yearly near Hydro-Qubec installations (in the western Quebec Seismic Zone), but no installation has ever been damaged (Hydro-Qubec, personal communication).
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Lamontagne and Dascal


Fig. 2. Relationship between the magnitude of an earthquake

(MJ) and the largest distance where an earth dam was damaged
(modified from Tani 2000). The data points are shown as open
diamonds and the relationship as a straight line. The magnitude
distance criteria of ICOLD (1988) are shown as stepped lines.
The MJ scale is roughly equivalent to the GutenbergRichter
magnitude (ML) used in the ICOLD guidelines. The ICOLD
guidelines underestimate the potential for damage to earthfill
dams for M > 7.0 earthquakes.

Table 2. Inspection parameters according to ICOLD (1988) and

USSD (2003).
Distance to the structure (km)b
Richter earthquake

ICOLD 1988

USSD 2003c





Richter magnitude is mentioned in ICOLD (1988) and USSD (2003)

but must be taken in a generic sense not strictly along the seismological
definition of ML.
Epicentral distance.
Distances in miles as published by USSD are given in parentheses.

Table 1. Examples of distances derived from the relationship of Tani (2000) and presented in Fig. 2.

Radius of inspection (km)



Post-earthquake inspection
Post-earthquake inspection is required by many dam
safety regulations, such as those of ICOLD and the United
States Society on Dams (USSD). The ICOLD guidelines for
the inspection of dams after an earthquake follow two scenarios (ICOLD 1983, 1988):
(1) An inspection should be done if an earthquake has occurred or has been reported to have occurred with a
magnitude (M)5 and within a distance from the dam
given in Table 2 (in this paper). The distance should
constrain the area where significant or potentially damaging ground motions could have an impact on the
(2) An inspection should be done if all communications
from the dam are lost and there is a potential danger for
failure of the dam.
The guidelines of ICOLD (1983, 1988) were adopted by
the US Commission on Large Dams (USCOLD) in 1983 and
subsequently by the USSD, which replaced USCOLD. The

new guidelines of USSD (2003) introduce some significant

modifications, including a 60% increase in distance to the
structures (mostly because of a change of units from kilometres to miles; Table 2).
Most countries follow the inspection criteria contained in
the ICOLD (1988) guidelines. One exception is the Swiss
Federal Office for Water and Geology (FOWG 2003), which
establishes three levels of surveillance following an earthquake defined either by the intensity level on the Medvedev
SponheuerKarnik (MSK) intensity scale or by the peak
acceleration measured on bedrock or on the structure by at
least three accelerometers (Tables 2, 3).
A variation of the USSD (2003) guidelines is used in California. Given the magnitude of the earthquake, groundmotion relations are used to estimate the area where a
certain value is exceeded. Dams are inspected if the expected peak ground acceleration (PGA) equals or exceeds
5% of gravity (g) according to the Seed and Idriss (1982) attenuation relationship (D. Babbitt, ICOLD, personal communication). A site can also be inspected if the instrumentally
measured PGA equals or exceeds 5% of gravity.
After the occurrence of a sizable earthquake, the state of
the dams must be evaluated. Post-earthquake inspections can
be carried out in two phases (ICOLD 1988): (i) an inspection immediately after the earthquake, which is most crucial
to the decision regarding continued operation of the structure; and (ii) a follow-up inspection that provides more detailed information for the design of any repairs and for an
insight into structural performance under seismic loading.
In Quebec, the provincial dam safety regulations do not
mention any particular criteria for post-earthquake inspections. At Hydro-Qubec, post-earthquake inspections of dams
are generally considered special inspections in the framework
of extreme event consequence evaluations (floods, earthquakes, storms, hurricanes). These inspections are currently
carried out in agreement with the ICOLD (1988) guidelines
for dam surveillance activities (Table 2) and also consider
specific local conditions. Revised guidelines for postearthquake inspection are being prepared and continuously
updated by Hydro-Qubec. They are approved by the provincial regulator as part of its Dam Safety Program.

M is thereafter used to mean magnitude in a general sense, irrespective of the magnitude scale. More details on the magnitude scales are
given later in the paper.
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Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 43, 2006

Table 3. The Swiss inspection levels as a function of MSK intensity of recorded peak accelerations (FOWG 2003).



No immediate inspection
Inspection within 24 h


Immediate inspection


Felt by people inside
Felt by people outside;
damage to chimneys
People rushing outside;
damage moderate to

Currently, the Hydro-Qubec dams to be inspected after

an earthquake are identified as follows. When an earthquake
occurs, seismographs of the Geological Survey of Canada
(GSC) record the ground vibrations and transmit the data to
its control centre where a computer program automatically
determines the seismic wave arrival times to locate the epicentre of the earthquake and the amplitudes of the S waves
(Lg wave in eastern Canada) to calculate the magnitude. Approximately 37 min after the occurrence of the earthquake,
a first, very preliminary automatic message is sent out with
the location and magnitude of the earthquake and the
epicentral distance to Hydro-Qubec dams located within
the distances specified in the ICOLD (1988) guidelines (Table 2). This message and its updates are sent to the HydroQubec Centre de conduite du rseau (Network Control
Centre), which distributes the information to the regional offices. About 6090 min after the occurrence of the earthquake, an analyst-reviewed GSC notification is sent out to
revise and update the automatic solutions.

Defining new guidelines

For a dam operator, the applicability of the guidelines of
ICOLD (1988) raises three challenges. First, the magnitude
value and type have to be examined to fix the potential problems that might arise. Second, the intensity scale and its potential use have to be defined for when communication to a
dam is cut. Third, the inspection distances in ICOLD must
be reevaluated to consider the attenuation of ground motions
specific to ENA.
Earthquake magnitude
The ICOLD (1988) and USSD (2003) guidelines depend
largely on earthquake magnitudes without specifying the
magnitude type and the related uncertainty. The 1999
Kocaeli (Izmit), Turkey, earthquake is an example of the potential confusion that can arise from magnitude differences.
For that event, the local Kandilli Observatory communicated
a magnitude rating of 6.7 to emergency authorities. This
magnitude value is the body-wave magnitude that saturates
(i.e., tends towards a maximum value) for earthquakes with
magnitude >6.0. For the same event, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) rated the event at magnitude 7.4 on
the more robust moment magnitude scale. As a result, the
severity and extent of the damage and human loss were initially underestimated by Turkish authorities (they believed it
was only a magnitude 6.7 earthquake; Person 1999). Obviously, similar magnitude-type confusion must be avoided in
our guidelines.

Peak ground acceleration

on bedrock (% of gravity)

Peak acceleration of the

structure (% of gravity)







The magnitude of the earthquake is a convenient way of

representing the size of an earthquake, but a number of magnitude scales exist, something few non-seismologists know.
First formulated in 1935, the local magnitude (ML) scale was
defined for moderate-size earthquakes (3 < ML < 7) in southern California that occurred within 600 km of a Wood
Anderson seismograph. The ML scale corresponds to the
Richter scale in the ICOLD (1988) guidelines and is often
referred to by the press and the public. All of the currently
used scales for rating earthquake magnitudes (duration (mD),
surface wave (MS), body wave (mb), moment (MW or M),
etc.) yield results that are only consistent with ML over a
limited range of magnitudes (Fig. 3). For smaller earthquake, other scales, including the Richter scale, are still being used. Historical earthquakes are sometimes scaled on the
felt-area magnitudes (mFA). The most consistent estimate of
earthquake size across a wide range of magnitudes is the
moment magnitude (MW or M). This magnitude is based on
the seismic moment which, unlike most scales derived from
seismic phase amplitudes, does not saturate with earthquake
size. For this reason, the moment magnitude best quantifies
an earthquake of magnitude >5, and regulations would ideally refer to it.
A major drawback to using the moment magnitude scale
in eastern Canada is that, unlike most magnitude scales derived from phase amplitudes, the moment magnitude requires the analysis of slow travelling long period waves,
which delays its use in emergency situations. In addition, it
is not at present routinely computed by the GSC.
In ENA, a specific magnitude mb(Lg) was defined by Otto
Nuttli based on the largest body wave (Lg) seen in vertical
seismograms for continental paths. In eastern Canada, the
GSC uses a variation of the mb(Lg) scale, called the Nuttli
magnitude (mN). To add to the potential confusion, the Richter scale is still used for offshore earthquakes and small M <
2 earthquakes. In eastern Canada, therefore, one of three
magnitude scales is used for emergency messages: mb(Lg)
(or mN) for continental earthquakes, ML for offshore events,
and MS for events larger than about 5.
At Hydro-Qubec, the inspection program (area to be inspected) is defined immediately after receiving the notification from the GSC that includes the location and magnitude
of the earthquake. The magnitude values are preliminary and
can be reevaluated with more seismographic data. As an example, the 1988 Saguenay earthquake magnitude values
communicated by the GSC varied from M 5.0 (the first notice sent) to magnitude mb(Lg) 6.5 (with other measurements
of MS 5.8 and moment magnitude M 5.9). Obviously, an inspection program must consider the magnitude type and the
2006 NRC Canada

Lamontagne and Dascal

Fig. 3. Comparison of various magnitude scales (adapted from
Heaton et al. 1986): mb, short-period body wave; mB, body-wave
magnitude by Gutenberg; MJ, Japan Meteorological Agency; ML,
GutenbergRicher local; MS, surface wave; M and MW, moment.

intrinsic uncertainty of the preliminary magnitude. Since

post-earthquake inspections in Quebec are mostly concerned
with continental earthquakes, it can be safely assumed that
the magnitude released by the GSC will be mb(Lg) (or mN),
possibly followed later by MS. The relationships between mN
and MW are such that for magnitude mN < 5.5, MW is smaller
than mN by about a half magnitude unit, and the difference
decreases to zero for mN 7.0 (Atkinson and Boore 1995).
Another potential challenge is that most inspection guidelines define earthquakes as point sources (epicentres) from
which distances to structures can be determined. This assumption is acceptable for earthquakes of small to moderate
magnitudes (up to say M 5.5). For larger earthquakes,
however, scaling relations of fault dimensions versus earthquake magnitudes show that an uncertainty of a few tens of
kilometres can be introduced for earthquakes larger than
M 7 (Table 4). Hence, to a seismologist, the ICOLD (1988)
guidelines underestimate the fault dimensions of an M > 8
earthquake: an inspection distance of 150 km is suggested,
which is about the length of the fault that ruptured! Emergency procedures for large earthquakes should consider the
source dimensions. Our guidelines in the section titled Determining the dimensions of the inspection area are such that
they comfortably exceed the length of all potential ruptures.
Directivity effects can also be important for moderate to
large earthquakes (Haddon 1996), a factor that adds additional uncertainty to the expected levels of ground motions
based on a point-source model that predicts similar ground
motions in all directions.
Shaking intensity
The intensity is an indirect representation of the strength
of earthquake shaking at a given place. It is determined from

Table 4. Fault dimensions for stable continental earthquakes of
various moment magnitudes (M) (after Johnston 1993).

Length (km)

Width (km)

Slip (m)





reports of human reaction to shaking, damage done to structures, and other effects. The intensity at a location depends
on the magnitude of the earthquake, the distance from the
epicentre, the local geology and topography, and the earthquake resistance of the structures. Although many intensity
scales exist, the modified Mercalli intensity (MMI) scale is
the most commonly used for North American earthquakes
(Table 5). The MMI scale is designated by Roman numerals
that range from perceptible shaking (0) to catastrophic destruction (XII). Although intensity values are related to
ground shaking levels, the MMI scale does not have a mathematical basis; instead, it is an arbitrary ranking based on
observed effects. Intensity scales differ from the magnitude
scales in that the effects of any one earthquake vary greatly
from place to place, so there may be many intensity values
(e.g., IV, VII) measured from one earthquake.
Isoseismal maps show the contours of iso-intensities (generally hand drawn) and sometimes the distribution of intensity values. These maps provide a rapid estimate of the
nature and distribution of the shaking. In general, the
isoseismals are roughly circular and centred on the area with
maximum damage (the epicentral region). Because of local
site conditions (source characteristics, anisotropy in wave
propagation, geology, topography, and geotechnical conditions), however, the circles are often distorted into ellipses
with the epicentre sometimes not at the centre. Since they
represent areas of potential damage, isoseismal maps can be
used to study the appropriateness of the post-earthquake inspection area.
The MMI scale and isoseismal maps are not ideal for describing all possible consequences of an earthquake. First,
intensity rating can be subjective, since any value covers a
range of effects on humans, structures, and the environment.
Some analysts look for many effects before assigning the
level, whereas others consider the maximum level witnessed
in a given area. Second, intensity reports only sample the inhabited areas, which leaves out many sparsely populated areas. In the 20th century, questionnaires were mailed to town
postmasters who could only describe what they knew of the
local impact. Today, anyone who feels an earthquake can fill
out internet-based questionnaires, providing a better sampling of the maximum local impact. Lastly, isoseismal lines
are very approximate boundaries of the areas where an
earthquake was felt at a given level.
If all communications are cut off, then the on-site operator
can use a subjective rating of the local intensity (e.g.,
FOWG 2003; Table 3) witnessed to determine if the dam inspection should proceed. Determining intensity is very approximate, however, because intensity differences of up to
three levels can exist within a few kilometres, so this approach should be used only if communications fail. Table 5
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Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 43, 2006

Table 5. Approximate relationship between the magnitude of an earthquake and the maximum intensity on the modified Mercalli scale
(source: USGS, 2006).










7.0 and


Not felt except by a very few persons under especially favourable conditions
II: felt only by a few persons at rest, especially on upper floors of buildings
III: felt quite noticeably by persons indoors, especially on upper floors of buildings; many people
do not recognize it as an earthquake; standing motorcars may rock slightly; vibrations similar to
the passing of a truck; duration estimated
IV: felt indoors by many, outdoors by few during the day; at night, some awakened; dishes,
windows, doors disturbed; walls make cracking sound; sensation like heavy truck striking building; standing motorcars rocked noticeably
V: felt by nearly everyone; many awakened; some dishes, windows broken; unstable objects
overturned; pendulum clocks may stop
VI: felt by all, many frightened; some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster;
damage slight
VII: damage negligible in buildings of good design and construction; damage slight to moderate
in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken
VIII: damage slight in specially designed structures; considerable damage in ordinary substantial
buildings, with partial collapse; damage great in poorly built structures; fall of chimneys, factory
stacks, columns, monuments, walls; heavy furniture overturned
IX: damage considerable in specially designed structures; well-designed frame structures thrown
out of plumb; damage great in substantial buildings, with partial collapse; buildings shifted off
X: some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed
with foundations; rails bent
XI: few, if any (masonry), structures remain standing; bridges destroyed; rails bent greatly
XII: damage total; lines of sight and level are distorted; objects thrown into the air

presents a very approximate relationship between the maximum intensity and the magnitude of an earthquake, which
could be used to approximate the earthquake size. We recommend that local staff use a minimum MMI intensity of VI
as the basis of inspection, which would correspond to an
earthquake of at least M 5.0. Ideally, a local operator would
rely on ground shaking measurements from the dams to determine if actions are warranted. Unfortunately, there are
very few dams currently instrumented in Quebec (or in eastern Canada), so we cannot yet base our guidelines and actions on recorded ground motions at each dam location, as is
done in California with the 5% PGA trigger level.
Determining the dimensions of the inspection area
The ICOLD, USCOLD, and USSD inspection criteria
were based on attenuation of ground motions derived for
WNA. In ENA, it has been known for decades that a much
lower attenuation exists for strong ground motions. This implies that, for a given earthquake magnitude, the area where
the earthquake is felt and where damage occurs is much
greater in ENA than in WNA (Nuttli 1972) (Fig. 1). As a
consequence, the distances for inspection of structures in
ENA should be significantly greater than those recommended by ICOLD (1988) and USSD (2003). A good illustration that the California inspection criteria must be adapted
for the ENA is presented in Fig. 4. For earthquakes of a
given magnitude, the MMI V is reported almost twice as far
in ENA than in WNA. Although the distances reported for
MMI V in WNA are approximately proportional to the mag-

nitude, the ENA data show much more scatter, especially for
M > 5 earthquakes. For smaller ENA and WNA earthquakes,
the MMI V distances are less than 200 km.
In California, the inspection area dimensions are defined
by strong ground-motion relations. We decided not to rely
on such relations because of the uncertainties arising from
large variations among the relations (which partly depends
on the small number of moderate to large earthquakes on
which the relations are based). Most relations assume just
two surface-material types, either bedrock or stiff soils,
whereas our inspection criteria must consider a variety of
soil types and conditions. Also, such relations are best fits to
the ground-motion measurements, whereas our proposed inspection criteria are deliberately more conservative so as to
include all potentially damaged sites.
Data selection
In developing proposed guidelines, we chose to use the intensity databases of past earthquakes where damage or impact is expressed by the local MMI value. An advantage is
that intensity reports sample numerous local geological conditions, analogous to the local site conditions of dams in
Quebec. Intensity information for past earthquakes of North
America exists in databases and publications. Most ENA intensity information on US territory can be found in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
web-accessible database (NOAA 1996). For some earthquakes felt on Canadian territory, the GSC maintains an intensity database, but for most earthquakes the information
only exists in publications. Long axes of isoseismals were
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Lamontagne and Dascal

Fig. 4. Maximum distance that a MMI V is reported for a given
magnitude in eastern North America (ENA) and western North
America (WNA). The dates of M > 5 ENA earthquakes are
given. See Table 6 for earthquake descriptions.

measured from published isoseismal maps, and most maximum distances for given intensities were obtained from the
NOAA database. We chose earthquakes for which reliable
isoseismal data and maps were available in ENA (Table 6).
For the WNA, we selected a few representative earthquakes
as a basis for comparison. In our analysis, we have tried to
use the MW rating as the primary magnitude to define the
earthquake size. If not available, a representative magnitude
was selected, generally the first magnitude value shown in
Table 6.
The intensity data were defined using two approaches
(Fig. 5). In the first approach, the long axis of a given MMI
isoseismal was measured on the isoseismal map. As mentioned previously, the isoseismals are rarely circles centred
on the epicentre. Consequently, measuring the long axis of
the ellipse of a given isoseismal ensures that the measurements are independent of the position of the epicentre,
which can be very approximate for historical earthquakes.
Due to the uncertain position of the epicentre of historical
earthquakes and the asymmetry of isoseismals in some
maps, we chose to use the long axis of the ellipse. Our measured values could then be somewhat conservative, a position that we are willing to accept, considering the intrinsic
uncertainty of isoseismal surfaces. In the second approach,
the maximum distances to communities with MMIs of VI
and VII were used. Epicentral distances were taken from the
NOAA database or computed from GSC epicentres and
community coordinates. The two approaches give very similar results; the isoseismal line underestimates the maximum
distance with a given MMI value (since it averages values
over space), but since we are measuring the long axis of the
isoseismal area, the two values are very similar in the end.
MMIs VI and VII were considered to define the inspection areas (Figs. 6, 7; Table 6). MMI VI was only considered
for discussion purposes because dams have a relatively
strong resistance to seismic loading at that level. Instead, we
selected MMI VII (slight to moderate damage in well-built
ordinary structures) to represent potential damage to dams.
MMI VII corresponds to damage to unreinforced masonry


walls, broken weak chimneys, cracked plaster, and the

falling of cornices from towers and high buildings. In California, MMI VII corresponds to PGA in the 18%34% of
gravity range (Wald et al. 1999), well above the recommended 5% PGA inspection level used there.
Based on the ENA data, we propose the inspection criteria
given in Table 7 and reproduced in Figs. 6 and 7. The recommended distance steps follow the MMI VI curve and are
above the MMI VII curve. This indicates that most damage
corresponding to MMI VI and MMI VII should lie within
our recommended inspection distances. Figure 7 shows three
maximum distances of MMI VIIs above our recommendations: 1903 M 4.9, Charleston, Missouri; 1968 mb(Lg) 5.3,
Illinois; and 1988 M 5.9, Saguenay, Quebec. The impact is
not too important, however: when a 0.5 magnitude unit is
added to the magnitude of these earthquakes, they all fall
within our recommended distances. For the Saguenay earthquake, for instance, a magnitude 6.4 (5.9 + 0.5) corresponds
to an inspection distance of 500 km. The inspection criterion
of 500 km applicable for an event of the size of the 1925
Charlevoix earthquake encloses the long-axis length of the
MMI VII isoseismal (460 km).

Discussion and conclusions

Our new guidelines for the post-earthquake inspection areas are completely compatible with the upcoming ground
shaking intensity maps (ShakeMap; Wald et al. 1999).
Within minutes of the occurrence of an earthquake in eastern
Canada, it is now possible to show the regional distribution
of recorded peak ground motions (velocity, acceleration, and
response spectra) and estimate the corresponding intensities.
Interpolation between recording sites is done with possible
inclusion of soil properties to consider soft-soil amplification.
This new approach is of prime interest to emergencyresponse activities, including dam inspection, since it shows
very quickly the extent of the zone where ground shaking
was most intense and provides ground velocity information
at a series of recording sites. To make it ideal for dam inspection activities, however, a seismograph site would have
to be co-located with a dam and its data included in the production of the ShakeMap. Ground-motion information
would have to be quickly available to dam operators to decide if inspection is warranted.
In practice, inspection criteria such as those developed in
this paper will be needed for some time because of the cost
and operation constraints of instrumenting all dams. In addition, seismographic data are generally acquired on bedrock,
whereas many smaller dams and dykes rest on soft soils for
which extrapolations of ground motions are poorly constrained. In conclusion, it is our opinion that web-based
ShakeMaps are an additional source of information that is
full of promise for emergency response, but they cannot replace the post-earthquake inspection guidelines.
This paper recommends the following procedure to determine the areal extent of post-earthquake inspections:
(1) Shortly after the occurrence of an earthquake, the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) issues a notification
that includes the location and magnitude of the earthquake. Before the areal extent of dams to be inspected is
2006 NRC Canada


Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 43, 2006

Table 6. Eastern and western North America earthquakes for which intensity data were available for this study.



Magnitude and scaleb

Max. intensity

Eastern North America (ENA)

New Madrid, Mo.


-7.6 (MW)


New York, N.Y.

Charleston, S.C.


-6.9 (MW)


Charleston, Mo.
Charleston, Mo.
Wabash River Valley, Ind.
CharlevoixKamouraska, Que.
Grand Banks
Attica, N.Y.
Temiskaming, Que.



(MW); 6.5 (mb(Lg)); 6.2 (MS); 6.5 (mb)

(MW); 7.2 (MS); 7.1 (mB)
(MN); 4.4 (MS)
(MW); 6.1 (mb); 6.3 (mb(Lg)); 6.0 (MS)


Western Ohio
Charlevoix, Que.
Ossipee Lake, N.H.



(MW); 5.4 (mb); 5.6 (mb(Lg)); 5.8 (MS)
(MS); 5.5 (mb); 5.5 (mb(Lg))
(MW); 5.8 (mb(Lg)); 4.6 (mb); 5.1 (MS)


Southern Michigan
Charlevoix, Que.
Southern Illinois
Charlevoix, Que.
Miramichi, N.B.
Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. (Goodnow)
North Nahanni, N.W.T.


(mb(Lg)); 4.6 (mb); 4.5 (MS)
(MW); 5.8 (mb); 5.1 (MS); 5.7 (mb(Lg))
(mb); 5.1 (mN)
(MW); 6.6 (MS)
(MW); 6.9 (MS)
(MW); 5.9 (mb); 5.7 (MS); 6.5 (mb(Lg))


Saguenay, Que.


Mont-Laurier, Que.
Ungava, Que.
Cap-Rouge, Que.


4.5 (MW); 5.0 (mb(Lg)); 4.6 (mb); 4.2 (MS)

6.0 (MW); 6.1 (mN); 6.2 (mb); 6.3 (MS)
5.1 (MW); 4.5 (mb); 4.5 (MW); 4.0 (MS)


Cte-Nord, Que.
Kipawa, Que.
Au Sable Forks, N.Y.


5.1 (mN); 4.5 (MW); 3.8 (MS)

4.7 (MW); 5.2 (mN); 4.5 (mb); 4.0 (MS)
5.0 (MW); 5.5 (MN); 5.3 (mb); 4.2 (MS)


Western North America (WNA)

Lake Chelan, Wash.
Vancouver Island, B.C.
Vancouver Island, B.C.
Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C.
Puget Sound, Wash.
Mt. Vernon, Wash.
North Chelan, Wash.
Hebgen Lake, Mont.
Mount St. Helens, Wash.
Puget Sound, Wash.
San Fernando, Calif.
Loma Prieta, Calif.


6.9 (mb)
5.0 (ML)
4.1 (ML)
7.3 (MW); 7.7 (ML)
5.1 (ML)
6.5 (mb); 6.5 (MS)
6.6 (MW); 6.2 (mb); 6.6 (MS); 6.5 (ML)
7.2 (MW); 6.5 (mb); 7.1 (MS); 7.0 (ML)




Note: NA, not applicable, meaning that the level of intensity was not reached or that no information was available due to a lack of man-made struca
Dates are given as yearmonthday.
The first magnitude listed is the one used in the diagrams. The MW scale is the first one preferred, followed by the mb scale.
Two earthquakes.
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Lamontagne and Dascal

Long axis of



Long axis of




























Long axis of


























Stover and Coffman 1993; Bakun and
Hopper 2004
Stover and Coffman 1993
Stover and Coffman 1993; Bakun and
Hopper 2004
Stover and Coffman 1993
Stover and Coffman 1993
Stover and Coffman 1993
Bent 1992; Cajka 1999
Smith 1966; Bent 1995
Stover and Coffman 1993
Smith 1966; Ebel et al. 1986; Bent
Stover and Coffman 1993
Smith 1966; Ebel et al. 1986
Ebel et al. 1986
Smith 1966; Street and Turcotte 1977;
Ebel et al. 1986; Bent 1996b
Stover and Coffman 1993
Smith 1966
Gordon et al. 1970
Wetmiller 1975
Hasegawa and Wetmiller 1980
Wetmiller et al. 1984
Seeber and Ambruster 1986
Wetmiller et al. 1988
North et al. 1989; Tinawi et al. 1990;
Cajka and Drysdale 1996
Lamontagne et al. 1994
Drysdale et al. 1990
Cajka and Halchuk 1998; Nadeau et al.
Lamontagne et al. 2004
Bent et al. 2002
Seeber et al. 2002; Pierre and
Lamontagne 2004
Stover and Coffman 1993

Stover and Coffman 1993





tures to help quantify the intensity; ND, no data; UD, undefined; , point data not currently available in the existing databases.

2006 NRC Canada

Fig. 5. Illustration of the two methods used to scale the distances of maximum intensity using the 1988 Saguenay earthquake isoseismals as an example (MMI V, light gray shading;
MMI VI, dark gray shading; , epicentre of the earthquake). In
the first method (A), the long axis of the MMI ellipse is measured (1000 km), whereas in the second method (B), the
epicentral distance of the maximum MMI V data point is scaled
(855 km; computed from the coordinates of the epicentre and the
data point).

Can. Geotech. J. Vol. 43, 2006

Fig. 7. Distribution of the maximum distances for MMI V, MMI
VI, and MMI VII for ENA earthquakes. The maximum distances
are taken from the NOAA and GSC databases and are listed in
Table 6. The lines represent the linear regression curves plotted
on a semilogarithmic graph. Our proposed guidelines for inspection are also shown.

Table 7. Inspection versus magnitude recommended in this study

compared with those of ICOLD (1988).
Distance (km)

Fig. 6. Distribution of the area extents for MMI V, MMI VI, and
MMI VII for ENA earthquakes. The area extent is the long axis
of the ellipse defined by the isoseismals (see Fig. 5). The lines
represent the linear regression curves plotted on a semilogarithmic
graph. In addition, the steps represent the proposed guidelines
for inspection (Rec. Inspection).

determined, a 0.5 magnitude unit is added to the magnitude value. The areal extent of dams to be inspected is
then determined from Table 7.
(2) In case all communications are cut off, it is recommended that the site operator use a minimum MMI intensity of VI as the basis of inspection (damage
negligible in buildings of good design and construction,
damage slight to moderate in well-built ordinary struc-



ICOLD 1988

4.5 M
5.0 M
5.5 M
6.0 M

No inspection required




M is the preliminary magnitude released by the Geological Survey of
Canada +0.5 magnitude unit.

tures, considerable damage in poorly built or badly

designed structures, and some chimneys broken).
(3) If strong motion data are measured at the site, a PGA of
5% of gravity measured on bedrock can be used independently as the trigger for inspection.
These proposed inspection guidelines address four basic
challenges: timeliness, clarity of the message, robustness of
the procedure, and avoidance of unnecessary inspections.
The guidelines call for immediate action to prevent further
weakening or catastrophic failure of the structure. Clearly,
the time between the occurrence of an earthquake and the
actual delivering of a message depends on the processing of
the information and to a lesser degree on the density of seismograph stations and their capacity to remain on scale, even
for large-magnitude earthquakes. The current procedure relies on messages issued by the GSC shortly after the occurrence of an earthquake. Currently, the Hydro-Qubec
operational inspection program defines the area to be inspected immediately after receiving the GSC notification
with the location (latitude and longitude) and magnitude of
the earthquake. The current GSC automatic procedure can
deliver a first preliminary solution in less than 5 min (the average is 3.5 min). The process of determining the dams located within an area can be done automatically and
2006 NRC Canada

Lamontagne and Dascal

notification can be sent to the regions where inspections are

warranted. It is plausible that the time between the occurrence of the earthquake and the delivery of the information
will eventually be less than 1 min, as being developed in
southern California (Hauksson et al. 2003). Consequently,
the current procedure can ensure timely delivery of critical
information, with future developments bringing even faster
issuing of messages.
Messages must be sufficiently clear to leave field inspectors with little or no need for interpretation. In other words,
after the earthquake ground motions subside, the guidelines
should provide field officers with a clear directive whether
to carry out an inspection of the dam(s) under their responsibility. To avoid misinterpretation, the warning messages
must contain the list of dams to be inspected. The messages
should not require actions based on understanding of technical terms such as magnitude, intensity, and ground acceleration that can be misunderstood by nonspecialists. In case of
communications breakdown, or delay in release of the official magnitude and location information, the authors recommend that regional operators rely on the local damage
assessment in their community or work environment. If the
damage is equal to or greater than that associated with MMI
VI (heavy furniture moved, and a few instances of fallen
plaster), then inspection is recommended before official directives are sent.
The proposed guidelines are based on a robust methodology that took into account uncertainty in magnitudes, locations, and ground-motion relations. With the potential
differences in magnitude values and types, the inspection
area could vary significantly. A time-critical procedure, such
as the inspection of dams, cannot rely on waiting for the moment magnitude to be released. The authors propose adding
a 0.5 magnitude unit to the largest value of the magnitude
received at the time. Depending on the magnitude value, the
added 0.5 magnitude unit can translate into an extended area
of inspection, resulting in more a conservative inspection activity.
We define appropriate areas for inspection to avoid unnecessary inspections without hampering safety aspects. In
western North America (WNA), the ICOLD (1988) and
USSD (2003) guidelines can be accepted as recommended
because they were initially developed for this part of the
continent. For eastern North America (ENA), the isoseismal
information supports significantly larger inspection zones
than those defined for WNA. The extents of the inspection
area for Quebec are presented in Table 7. A comparison with
the existing guidelines of ICOLD (1988) and USSD (2003)
is presented in Fig. 8. With these conditions, the area where
inspection is required is much larger than those in the guidelines of ICOLD (1988), Tani (2000), and USSD (2003).
There are higher costs associated with these larger areas of
inspection, but they are based on the best data available and
ensure a safety-based approach.
The inspection criteria defined in Table 7 may seem too
conservative, but they are based on available intensity information from historical ENA earthquakes that have return periods of decades for those resulting in damage. Since the
ENA database for M > 6 events is limited, every new ENA
event helps refine the understanding of the damage caused
by these large but infrequent earthquakes.

Fig. 8. Comparisons of the various sets of guidelines for the
post-earthquake inspection of dams. The recommended values for
ENA are represented by the curve (This study). The proposed
guidelines include the maximum distance of damaged earthfill
dams of Tani (2000) and ICOLD (1988) and USSD (2003)
guidelines. In addition, the maximum distances and magnitudes
of the MMI VII felt reports are shown with dates of those that
are above our recommendations. The largest ENA earthquake
(1811) data point is also shown.

The proposed approach is based on the ICOLD criteria

and adapted to ENA seismological conditions. It is the privilege of dam owners to rely on more targeted approaches that
consider the intrinsic seismic vulnerability of their dams. Irrespective of the approach favoured by dam owners, this paper emphasizes that the lower ground-motion attenuation in
ENA should be considered.

The authors thank Dr. Martin Wieland of Energy Switzerland and Donald H. Babbitt, consulting engineer in Sacramento California, for their information on the post-earthquake
procedures in Switzerland and California, respectively. We
also thank Les Whitney and David McCormack of Natural
Resources Canada for reviewing drafts of the manuscript and
two anonymous reviewers of the Canadian Geotechnical Journal.

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epicentre point on the earths surface vertically above
the hypocentre (or focus)
epicentral distance distance between a point and the epicentre of
an earthquake
hypocentre point at depth where a seismic rupture begins
intensity describes the effects of an earthquake, at a
given place, on natural features, industrial installations, and human beings; in North America, the modified Mercalli scale is the
preferred intensity scale (see Table 5 for a description)
magnitude number that characterizes the relative size of
an earthquake; for a discussion of the various
magnitude scales, see the section titled Earthquake magnitude
rupture surface length of a fault along which faulting
occurred during an earthquake

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