The Pacific coast of the United States is riddled with earthquake faults; sooner or later one of them will rupture with an intensity far greater than was experienced in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That event caused more than $40 billion of property damage, half of which was due to failures of wood-framed structures.

The San Francisco Bay area, where I live, is threatened by a number of faults, including the Hayward Fault. The Association of Bay Area Governments predicts that a rupture of the Hayward Fault — with an expected magnitude of 7.2 or greater — will render 150,000 housing units uninhabitable. Other population centers on the West Coast face similar...

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