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Earthquake lesson plan The earthquake lesson plan provides teachers and students with an opportunity to investigate the 1989 Newcastle earthquake through individual or classroom activities. ITEMS Teachers lesson plan About earthquakes Earthquakes: Be prepared Student assignments Real life stories Related links

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  • Earthquake lesson plan

    The earthquake lesson plan provides teachers and students with an opportunity to investigate the 1989 Newcastle earthquake through individual or classroom activities.


    Teachers lesson plan

    About earthquakes

    Earthquakes: Be prepared

    Student assignments

    Real life stories

    Related links

  • 1

    Contents Lesson plan


    About earthquakes


    Earthquakes: Be prepared


    Student assignment: Investigating earthquakes


    Student assignment: My earthquake project


    Real life stories


    Related links


  • 2

    Earthquake lesson plan

    The earthquake lesson plan provides teachers and students with an opportunity to investigate the 1989 Newcastle earthquake through individual or classroom activities.

    Objectives Participating in this lesson will help students to:

    • understand the cause and effects of earthquakes

    • understand and demonstrate the steps to take to protect themselves during an earthquake.

    Required resources • • activity sheet • Computers with internet access.


    The learning areas for this lesson plan include:

    • Geography • History • Humanities and Social

    Science • Maths • Science • Health and physical

    education • The Arts • English • Technologies.

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    Lesson steps

    Investigating earthquakes activity In pairs, or small groups, studout more about earthquakes in general and the quake that devastated Newcastle in 1989.

    Additional material from Geoscience Australia:

    My earthquake project Provide students with a arthquake project activity sheet. Students will research the San Andreas Fault and earthquakes in Armenia and Kobe. They will investigate how earthquakes occur; the way earthquakes are measured; and the geology of their home or school location. Students are to create a presentation that will be presented to the class and which includes the location of major earthquakes, survival stories, interesting earthquake facts and earthquake management strategies.

    Additional material from Geoscience Australia Earthquakes: Teacher Notes and Student Activities

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    About earthquakes

    Earthquakes are unpredictable and can occur at any time. At least one earthquake occurs somewhere in the world each day. Some are slight tremors that can hardly be felt, while others are much stronger.


    tectonic plates are always moving and floating on molten rock. When stress builds up in these plates and is suddenly released, it creates seismic waves, which result in an earthquake. When earthquakes occur, they make a loud noise like a train, and the ground and buildings shake and sway. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Hours or even days later, you may still feel the earth move. This movement is called after-shocks, which are less severe than the initial earthquake.

    Measuring earthquakes The magnitude of an earthquake is measured and recorded by a device called a seismograph, which uses the Richter scale. The Richter scale has no upper limit to being able to record the magnitude of an earthquake. The most severe earthquakes so far, have not exceeded 9.5 on the Richter scale. The Richter Scale uses complex mathematics to calculate the magnitude of an earthquake. For instance, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake creates 10 times the ground motion of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake and the total energy release is about 30 times greater. This in turn is 30 times greater than a 5.0 and so on. Another scale used to describe earthquakes is the Modified Mercalli (MM). It rates the level of intensity, shaking felt and damage caused, and uses roman numerals. On this scale, I is a barely detectable tremor, and XII is catastrophic damage.

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    Did you know?

    • The Australian Geological Survey Organisation in Canberra estimates that, on average, the Australian region experiences an earthquake of at least Richter scale magnitude 5.5, or larger, every 13-15 months.

    • Ninety per cent of all earthquakes in the world take place at tectonic plate boundaries and are the result of the constant movement of the plates against each other.

    • The oldest parts of Australia, the western and central areas, are most seismically active. • The 1989 Newcastle Earthquake has been Australia's most damaging earthquake with 13

    fatalities and insured damage of $1124 million.

    The deadliest earthquake ever recorded was in China in 1556. During this time many people lived in the mountains in caverns and the quake resulted in over 800,000 deaths.

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    Earthquakes: Be prepared

    You can survive an earthquake and minimise damage by being aware of, and prepared for, potential hazards. An earthquake will be over before you can do much about it.

    Most people are killed or injured when they attempt to move during the earthquake and are struck by falling or flying objects.

    Your chances of avoiding serious injury are high if you remain calm and take cover as recommended below. By following this advice and being well-prepared, you could be a potential resource for your community.

    Are you at risk?

    • Check with your State and Territory Emergency Service (SES) to find out whether tremors or earthquakes have occurred in your area and what damage resulted.

    • Ask your SES if they have a pamphlet or poster showing Australia's earthquake hazard zones. • Even if you're in a slight risk zone, ask your council how to make your house safer. • Check that your insurance covers earthquake damage.

    Planning for the disaster: There are several steps you need to take when planning for the possibility of an earthquake.

    Create a family emergency plan that includes:

    • A list of safe places in the house during an earthquake and after-shocks. • Where to meet if you are separated.

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    • A list of all the emergency phone numbers you will need, making sure everyone knows where this is displayed (e.g. on the fridge). You should also have a copy of emergency phone numbers in your Emergency Survival Kit.

    Look for early warning signs during the earthquake

    • Unusual animal behaviour watch for frightened or confused pets running around, or a bird-call not usually heard at night.

    • Ground-water levels - watch for sudden changes of water level in wells or artesian bores.

    If you are indoors

    • Stay there. There could be falling debris outside. • Take cover under an internal door frame, sturdy table, bench or bed. • Keep away from windows, mirrors, chimneys, overhead fittings and tall furniture. • In high-rise buildings, get under a desk near a pillar or internal wall. • Do not use elevators. • In crowded areas, do not rush for doors. Stay clear of roof and wall fittings. • Listen to the radio for warnings before moving.

    If you are outside

    • Keep well clear of buildings, walls, power lines and trees. • Shelter from falling debris under strong archways or doorways of buildings. • Don't stand under awnings or parapets/walls as they may collapse. • If you are in a vehicle, stop in the open until shaking stops. Beware of fallen power lines and

    damage to roads, overpasses or bridges. • Listen to the radio for warnings before moving.

    After the earthquake

    Remember that there could be after-shocks, and even though they may not be as severe, it is important that you follow the same emergency survival tips as during an earthquake.

    Research your local emergency services websites to locate an appropriate Emergency Survival Kit.

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    • Check for injuries and apply first aid. • Do not move the seriously injured unless they are in danger. • To avoid congestions, do not use the telephone unless there is a serious injury or fire. • Turn off the electricity, gas and water. Check for gas and fuel leaks before lighting matches. • Check for water or sewerage leaks and broken electrical wiring. Do not touch any wiring. • Check for cracks and damage, including the roof, chimneys and foundations. • Be prepared for after-shocks. • Evacuate the house if it is badly damaged. • Do not waste food and water as supplies may be interrupted. Collect emergency water from

    water heaters, ice cubes, toilet tanks and canned foods. • Listen to the local radio, heed warnings and follow advice on damage and service disruptions. • Avoid travelling unless for emergency (keep the streets clear for emergency vehicles). • Do not go sight-seeing or enter damaged buildings. Stay calm and help others if possible.

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    Investigating earthquakes

    Student name: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Date / /

    At 10.27 am on 28 December 1989, Newcastle (Australia's sixth largest city at the time) was devastated by an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. It was the first earthquake in Australia that resulted in death and destruction - 13 people died, more than 160 people sustained injuries and over 10,000 buildings in Newcastle were damaged. To find out more about earthquakes and the Newcastle example, use the following sites, and others

    facilities to find the information).

    • University of Queensland (UQ) • USGS (United States Geological Survey) website • City of Newcastle website

    All about earthquakes What is an epicentre?


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    What are the main causes of earthquakes?

    What tool is used to measure earthquakes?

    How does the measurement scale work?

    Newcastle earthquake Where was the epicentre of the Newcastle earthquake?

    How far away from the epicentre was the Newcastle earthquake felt?

    What was the cause of the Newcastle earthquake?

    How did the emergency services react to the earthquake?

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    What can people do to protect themselves and stay safe during an earthquake?

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    My earthquake project

    Use these questions and ideas to find out more about earthquakes.

    • Why is it an important fault? • Was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake related to the San Andreas Fault? • What were some features of this Californian quake that caused it to make it into the history




    Investigate how earthquakes occur. Use text and diagrams to explain the phenomenon.


    Research the way earthquakes are measured. Define terms such as seismographs, Richter scale and aftershock.


    Research the San Andreas Fault. Find its location and size and answer the following questions:

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    How might this affect the building's chance of withstanding an earthquake?

    • the location/s of major earthquakes and the intensity or damage caused • earthquake survival stories consider the humanitarian impacts of earthquakes • interesting earthquake facts • earthquake management strategies.


    Research the earthquake in Armenia, 1988, or the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, 1995.


    which rock and soil types your house/school/workplace is built on.


    Create a presentation for your class about earthquakes. You could focus on one or more of the following:

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    Real life earthquake stories

    European settlement, occurred at Port Jackson, New South Wales, in June 1788 and lasted for about three seconds. Other earthquakes recorded in early Australian history were:

    • Hobart in 1827 • South Australia in 1837 • Melbourne in 1841 • Perth in 1849.

    The first recorded deaths in Australia caused by earthquakes occurred in 1902, at Warooka, South Australia. Two people died after a magnitude 6.0 earthquake. In 1917, one miner died and five were injured in an underground rock fall triggered by an earthquake in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. In the last 80 years, there have been 17 earthquakes in Australia registering 6.0 or more on the Richter scale. This is a rate of about one earthquake every five years, compared to the world average of about 140 per year. Some larger Australian earthquakes have caused significant damage, but more damaging earthquakes have occurred in other parts of the world. Until the December 1989 earthquake in Newcastle, NSW, damage caused by earthquakes in Australia was comparatively low.

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    Quakes that shook the nation Here is some information about major Australian earthquakes:


    This damaging earthquake affected the Ellalong-Cessnock area of the Hunter region in New South Wales. Measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale, it became our third most damaging earthquake. Several homes, hotels and other buildings were severely damaged and up to 1000 homes were partly damaged. Infrastructure, commercial and industrial losses also occurred. Insurance payouts were $38 million and total damage costs exceeded $150 million (1997 values).


    At 10.27 am, Newcastle (Australia's sixth largest city at the time) was struck by a moderate earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. This earthquake claimed 13 lives, the first earthquake-related deaths in Australia. The devastation to buildings and other structures was extensive, which was unusual for a relatively small magnitude earthquake. This was due mainly to an underlying, thin layer of alluvium, which

    directly above the focus of an earthquake) was 15 km west south-west of the city centre, near Boolaroo.

    Ellalong, New South Wales

    Newcastle, New South Wales

    DATE : August 1994

    DATE : December 1989

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    Significant earthquakes of magnitudes 6.3, 6.4 and 6.8 occurred near Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. These resulted in large, long ground ruptures and a 35 km fault (up to 2 m displacement) which warped underground gas pipelines, but caused only minor damage to the hospital and some homes in the town.


    One of the more serious Australian earthquakes occurred at the small town of Meckering, WA. Residents reported seeing ground waves and experienced difficulty driving when the 6.9 magnitude earthquake struck. Old buildings collapsed, railway lines buckled, pipelines fractured, and a 37 km fault scarp (up to 2.5 m high) was caused. Sixteen injuries were reported and the total cost of damage estimated $50 million.


    On 1 March 1954, an earthquake struck Adelaide, followed by shaking severe enough to crack walls and loosen plaster and chimneys from many houses. Although minor compared to many international quakes, the Adelaide earthquake was, at magnitude 5.4, severe enough to cause damage estimated at $350 million (1997 values). No serious injuries were reported.

    Tennant Creek, Northern Territory

    Meckering, Western Australia

    Adelaide, South Australia

    DATE : January 1988

    DATE : October 1968

    DATE : March 1954

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    The end of a myth Despite Australia's seemingly low-risk situation in the middle of one of Earth's larger tectonic plates, we have had many earthquakes larger than the one in Newcastle. This map shows that Australia is in the middle of the Australian-Indian Plate. The Australian Geological Survey Organisation in Canberra estimates that on average, the Australian region experiences an earthquake of at least richter scale magnitude 5.5, or larger, every 13-15 months. Most of these earthquakes have been in low populated areas, so for many years people thought Australia could not be affected by this natural disaster.

    Australian geology

    Due to Australia's geological position, we are prone to what seismologists call 'intra-plate' earthquakes. These are different to the more familiar plate-margin earthquakes, common in areas such as California, USA, and Japan.

    The Newcastle experience dispelled this myth.

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    Related links

    Kobe City website

    1988 Armenian earthquake (BBC News)

    Recent earthquakes measured by Geoscience Australia

    Latest earthquakes in the world (measured by USGS)

    How seismographs work

    What is an earthquake?

    How plate tectonics work

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