California Strong Motion Instrumentation Program

The California Strong Motion Instrumentation Program (CSMIP) in the Department of Conservation's California Geological Survey was established in 1972 to obtain vital earthquake data for the engineering and scientific communities through a statewide network of strong motion instruments. CSMIP is funded by a portion of local government building permit fees, with additional funding from other State and Federal agencies. The information gathered by CSMIP is processed and disseminated to seismologists, engineers, building officials, local governments and emergency response personnel throughout the state. The data is used to develop recommended changes to seismic provisions of building codes, to assist local governments in their general plan process and to aid emergency response personnel in the event of a disaster. When the planned network is completed, statewide coverage will ensure that strong ground motion for any moderate to larger size earthquake in the state will be recorded.

Network Installation and Maintenance

Instrumented Station PlotCSMIP installs state-of-the-art earthquake monitoring devices called "accelerographs" at various representative geologic foundation materials throughout California to measure the ground shaking. When activated by earthquake shaking, the devices produce a record from which important characteristics of ground motion (acceleration, velocity, displacement, duration) can be calculated.

In addition, earthquake monitoring devices are installed in structures such as buildings, hospitals, bridges, dams, utilities and industrial facilities. Sites are selected by engineers and scientists representing industry, government, and universities. The program has installed more than 900 stations, including 650 ground-response stations, 170 buildings, 20 dams and 60 bridges.

CSMIP Instrumentation 1 CSMIP Instrumentation 2 CSMIP Instrumentation 3 

The images above show typical views of CSMIP instrumentation.

Station List

CGS/DGS Accelerograph System Requirements

Data Processing and Dissemination

Data from monitoring devices are retrieved by modem and computers or by physically recovering the records at the station. Modern equipment is designed to automatically call CSMIP headquarters when it senses ground shaking.

After an earthquake, records collected by CSMIP are processed and disseminated to engineers, seismologists, building officials, state and local governments and emergency personnel throughout the State. Since the program's inception, records from numerous earthquakes have been collected, processed and distributed for analysis. All processed data are available upon request or can be downloaded from the U.S. National Center for Engineering Strong Motion Data at

Data Interpretation

In 1989, CSMIP established a project for data interpretation and utilization. The primary objective of this project is to increase the understanding of earthquake ground shaking and its effects on structures through interpretation and analysis studies of CSMIP data.

SMIP SeminarsCSMIP holds annual seminars to transfer recent research findings on strong-motion data to practicing seismic design professionals and earth scientists. The purpose of the annual seminar is to provide information that will be useful immediately in seismic design practice and post-earthquake response. The ultimate goal is to accelerate the process by which lessons learned from earthquake data are incorporated into seismic code provisions and seismic design practices. The proceedings from these seminars are available through our SMIP Seminar page.

Safer Structures

Damaged Building
Imperial County Services Building damaged by the 1979 Imperial Valley earthquake. This was the first time strong-motion records were obtained from a damaged building.

As the network is expanded statewide, new and important data become available on the occasion of each new earthquake. Significant strong-motion records have been obtained from destructive earthquakes. Some examples include:

  • Instruments installed by SMIP at different levels of the Imperial County Services Building in El Centro recorded the motion of this modern multi-story building during the 1979 Imperial Valley earthquake and resulting damage to the building. With these data, engineers have assessed the causes of the damage and reached a better understanding of the performance of this type of structure.
  • The ground motion records from the 1994 Northridge earthquake indicated much higher shaking close to the fault than was expected. The Uniform Building Code has been revised and requires designing buildings for larger seismic force in the near-fault zone.
  • Strong-motion records were also obtained from several concrete and steel buildings damaged by the Northridge earthquake. These records have helped engineers understand how buildings respond to damaging shaking and provided important information about the integrity of the building structure after the earthquake.
  • CSMIP data from buildings have led to improved formulas in the Uniform Building Code for calculating the building resonant vibration period, a key parameter in earthquake-resistant design
  • Installed Accelerometers
    Accelerometers installed above and below the isolators at the base of the Los Angeles Fire Command Center.
  • CSMIP instruments are confirming the effectiveness of a new concept in earthquake protection design called "base isolation." Base isolation is designed to reduce the effects of ground shaking, much like shock absorbers in a car. A base-isolated hospital building nearly 22 miles from the Northridge earthquake experienced much lower shaking than nearby buildings without base-isolation. CSMIP has recorded the motion in base-isolated buildings during several earthquakes and the data are critical to evaluating the new technology.

As these strong-motion records are analyzed and interpreted by engineers and seismologists, the resulting knowledge provides the basis for improvements in structural design and construction. In addition, the local building codes and ordinances that specify earthquake-resistant design and construction practices will be improved.

Earthquakes will continue to be a fact of life in California; however, their effect on our lives and on future generations will gradually diminish as we acquire and apply the knowledge necessary to build safer structures.

Hospital Instrumentation

The Office of Statewide Health and Planning and Development (OSHPD) arranged for CSMIP to begin instrumenting hospital buildings in 1989. The program has instrumented 29 hospitals and health facilities throughout California.

Bridge Instrumentation

Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a comprehensive project was initiated by the Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and CSMIP to instrument Caltrans bridges throughout the state. This project was in response to recommendations by the Governor's Board of Inquiry that Caltrans implement a comprehensive seismic instrumentation program to provide measurements of ground shaking and record the response of bridge structures during earthquakes.

The project includes instrumentation of highway bridges, free-field sites near major bridges, and subsurface geotechnical arrays. The program has instrumented more than 60 Caltrans bridges. In addition, all Caltrans toll bridges will be extensively instrumented.

The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District arranged for CSMIP to install 76 sensors at the Golden Gate Bridge in 1995. Additional sensors will be installed after the retrofit of this landmark structure is completed.

TriNet and CISN

1994 Northridge ShakeMap
ShakeMap for the 1994 Northridge Earthquake

In 1997, a joint project, TriNet, between the CSMIP, Caltech and USGS at Pasadena was funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through the California Office of Emergency Services. The goals of the project are to record and rapidly communicate ground shaking information in southern California, and to analyze the data for the improvement of seismic codes and standards.

In northern California, CSMIP is partnering with UC Berkeley and USGS at Menlo Park. In July 2001, the California Office of Emergency Services started to obtain funding for the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN), a statewide system that includes the TriNet system. The CISN will improve seismic instrumentation and provide statewide ground shaking intensity maps. It will also distribute and archive strong-motion records of engineering interest and seismological data for all recorded earthquakes, and provide training for users.

CISN produces a ShakeMap of ground shaking, based on shaking recorded by stations in the network, within minutes following an earthquake. The ShakeMap will identify areas of the greatest potential damage for use by the Office of Emergency Services and other emergency response personnel in the event of a damaging earthquake. ShakeMap can be viewed at the CISN web site

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