One recommendation -- develop new techniques for evaluating and retrofitting existing buildings to better withstand earthquakes. Although the report noted that the March 11 quake and tsunami that struck Japan illustrate the sort of devastation that can occur even in a well-prepared nation, the magnitude-6.3 event in Christchurch, New Zealand provided researchers in California with a lot to consider when it comes to buildings.
"I look at Japan and that's not the best analogy for what goes on here," Dr. Lucy Jones, of the USGS, said on NBC4 LA's Newsconference. "The two buildings (in Christchurch) that created the largest life loss were both much more modern structures building in the 1980s to the same building code that we use with at least as good of enforcement of building code.
"It's a sobering moment for us.They have a lot of older buildings retrofitted in the same way that we retrofit our older buildings here in California. And, they performed as they were supposed to -- the roofs stayed up and the facades came off, and those facades killed people. So we need to recognize that even though we've retrofitted our buildings they still can be deadly."
Christchurch also provided an example of what people inside a building should do during a quake.
"When you've got these unreinforced masonry buildings, people who stayed inside were protected," Jones said. "If you are in an unreinforced brick building that has been retrofitted, you are far better off staying inside. The roof will probably stay up and the walls are going to be coming down."
Another recommendation from the National Research Council report -- installation of the remaining 75 percent of the Advanced National Seismic System to provide magnitude and location alerts within a few minutes after an earthquake. The network is made up of 7,000 earthquakes sensor systems.
This map provides a look at the network, which would provide real-time data about seismic activity.
Moderate earthquakes are not unusual in parts of the United States, but the last "great" earthquake shook Alaska in 1964. A quake and fire devastated San Francisco in 1906.
The report noted that, "Just as Hurricane Katrina tragically demonstrated'' for hurricanes, "coping with moderate earthquakes is not a reliable indicator of preparedness for a major earthquake in a populated area."
Other major U.S. quakes have occurred in the United States in California in 1857; the Memphis, Tenn.-St Louis area in 1811-12; South Carolina in 1886; and Massachusetts in 1755.
The report was commissioned by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the lead agency in the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.