Felt earthquake reports are quantified using the New Zealand Modified Mercalli (MM) intensity scale. The MM scale grades the impact of an earthquake on people living on the earth's surface, and so can be more useful as an indicator of the earthquake's significance to the community.

This is the full description of New Zealand's scale - see also a simplified version of this table.



MM 1

Not felt except by a very few people under exceptionally favourable circumstances.

MM 2

Felt by persons at rest, on upper floors or favourably placed.

MM 3

Felt indoors; hanging objects may swing, vibration similar to passing of light trucks, duration may be estimated, may not be recognised as an earthquake.

MM 4

Generally noticed indoors but not outside. Light sleepers may be awakened. Vibration may be likened to the passing of heavy traffic, or to the jolt of a heavy object falling or striking the building.

Doors and windows rattle. Glassware and crockery rattle. Liquids in open vessels may be slightly disturbed. Standing motorcars may rock.

Walls and frames of buildings, and partitions and suspended ceilings in commercial buildings, may be heard to creak.

MM 5

Generally felt outside, and by almost everyone indoors. Most sleepers awakened. A few people alarmed.

Small unstable objects are displaced or upset. Some glassware and crockery may be broken. Hanging pictures knock against the wall. Open doors may swing. Cupboard doors secured by magnetic catches may open. Pendulum clocks stop, start, or change rate.

Some windows Type I cracked. A few earthenware toilet fixtures cracked.

MM 6

Felt by all. People and animals alarmed. Many run outside. Difficulty experienced in walking steadily.

Objects fall from shelves. Pictures fall from walls. Some furniture moved on smooth floors, some unsecured free-standing fireplaces moved. Glassware and crockery broken. Very unstable furniture overturned. Small church and school bells ring. Appliances move on bench or table tops. Filing cabinets or "easy glide" drawers may open (or shut).

Slight damage to Buildings Type I. Some stucco or cement plaster falls. Windows Type I broken. Damage to a few weak domestic chimneys, some may fall.

Trees and bushes shake, or are heard to rustle. Loose material may be dislodged from sloping ground, e.g. existing slides, talus slopes, shingle slides.

MM 7

General alarm. Difficulty experienced in standing. Noticed by motorcar drivers who may stop.

Large bells ring. Furniture moves on smooth floors, may move on carpeted floors. Substantial damage to fragile contents of buildings.

Unreinforced stone and brick walls cracked. Buildings Type I cracked with some minor masonry falls. A few instances of damage to Buildings Type II. Unbraced parapets, unbraced brick gables, and architectural ornaments fall. Roofing tiles, especially ridge tiles may be dislodged. Many unreinforced domestic chimneys damaged, often falling from roof-line. Water tanks Type I burst. A few instances of damage to brick veneers and plaster or cement-based linings. Unrestrained water cylinders (water tanks Type II) may move and leak. Some windows Type II cracked. Suspended ceilings damaged.

Water made turbid by stirred up mud. Small slides such as falls of sand and gravel banks, and small rock-falls from steep slopes and cuttings. Instances of settlement of unconsolidated or wet, or weak soils. Some fine cracks appear in sloping ground. A few instances of liquefaction (i.e. small water and sand ejections).

MM 8

Alarm may approach panic. Steering of motorcars greatly affected.

Buildings Type I heavily damaged, some collapse. Buildings Type II damaged, some with partial collapse. Buildings Type III damaged in some cases. A few instances of damage to Structures Type IV. Monuments and pre-1976 elevated tanks and factory stacks twisted or brought down. Some pre-1965 infill masonry panels damaged. A few post-1980 brick veneers damaged. Decayed timber piles of houses damaged. Houses not secured to foundations may move. Most unreinforced domestic chimneys damaged, some below roof-line, many brought down.

Cracks appear on steep slopes and in wet ground. Small to moderate slides in roadside cuttings and unsupported excavations. Small water and sand ejections and localised lateral spreading adjacent to streams, canals, lakes, etc.

MM 9

Many  Buildings Type I destroyed. Buildings Type II heavily damaged, some collapse. Buildings Type III damaged, some with partial collapse. Structures Type IV damaged in some cases, some with flexible frames seriously damaged. Damage or permanent distortion to some Structures Type V. Houses not secured to foundations shifted off. Brick veneers fall and expose frames.

Cracking of ground conspicuous. Landsliding general on steep slopes. Liquefaction effects intensified and more widespread, with large lateral spreading and flow sliding adjacent to streams, canals, lakes, etc.

MM 10

Most Buildings Type I destroyed. Many Buildings Type II destroyed. Buildings Type III heavily damaged, some collapse. Structures Type IV damaged, some with partial collapse.  Structures Type V moderately damaged, but few partial collapses. A few instances of damage to Structures Type VI. Some well-built timber buildings moderately damaged (excluding damage from falling chimneys).

Landsliding very widespread in susceptible terrain, with very large rock masses displaced on steep slopes. Landslide dams may be formed. Liquefaction effects widespread and severe.

MM 11

Most Buildings Type II destroyed. Many Buildings Type III destroyed. Structures Type IV heavily damaged, some collapse.  Structures Type V damaged, some with partial collapse. Structures Type VI suffer minor damage, a few moderately damaged.

MM 12

Most Buildings Type III destroyed. Structures Type IV heavily damaged, some collapse. Structures Type V damaged, some with partial collapse. Structures Type VI suffer minor damage, a few moderately damaged.

Construction types

Buildings Type I

Buildings with low standard of workmanship, poor mortar, or constructed of weak materials like mud brick or rammed earth. Soft storey structures (e.g. shops) made of masonry, weak reinforced concrete or composite materials (e.g. some walls timber, some brick) not well tied together. Masonry buildings otherwise conforming to buildings Types I to III, but also having heavy unreinforced masonry towers. (Buildings constructed entirely of timber must be of extremely low quality to be Type I.)

Buildings Type II

Buildings of ordinary workmanship, with mortar of average quality. No extreme weakness, such as inadequate bonding of the corners, but neither designed nor reinforced to resist lateral forces. Such buildings not having heavy unreinforced masonry towers.

Buildings Type III

Reinforced masonry or concrete buildings of good workmanship and with sound mortar, but not formally designed to resist earthquake forces.

Structures Type IV

Buildings and bridges designed and built to resist earthquakes to normal use standards, i.e. no special collapse or damage limiting measures taken (mid-1930s to c. 1970 for concrete and to c. 1980 for other materials).

Structures Type V

Buildings and bridges, designed and built to normal use standards, i.e. no special damage limiting measures taken, other than code requirements, dating from since c. 1970 for concrete and c. 1980 for other materials.

Structures Type VI

Structures, dating from c. 1980, with well-defined foundation behaviour, which have been specially designed for minimal damage, e.g. seismically isolated emergency facilities, some structures with dangerous or high contents, or new generation low damage structures.


Type I

Large display windows, especially shop windows.

Type II

Ordinary sash or casement windows.

Water tanks

Type I

External, stand mounted, corrugated iron tanks.

Type II

Domestic hot-water cylinders unrestrained except by supply and delivery pipes.

Other comments

  • "Some" or "a few" indicates that the threshold of a particular effect has just been reached at that intensity.
  • "Many run outside" (MM 6) is variable depending upon mass behaviour, or conditioning by occurrence or absence of previous earthquakes, i.e. may occur at MM 5 or not until MM 7.
  • "Fragile contents of buildings": fragile contents include weak, brittle, unstable, unrestrained objects in any kind of building.
  • "Well-built timber buildings" have: wall openings not too large; robust piles or reinforced concrete strip foundations; superstructure tied to foundation.
  • Buildings Type III to V at MM 10 and greater intensities are more likely to exhibit the damage levels indicated for low-rise buildings on firm or stiff ground and for high-rise buildings on soft ground. By inference lesser damage to low-rise buildings on soft ground and higfh-rise buildings on firm or stiff ground may indicate the same intensity. These effects are due to attenuation of short period vibrations and amplification of longer period vibrations in soft soils.


Dowrick, D J (1996) "The modified Mercalli earthquake intensity scale; revisions arising from recent studies of New Zealand earthquakes." Bulletin of the New Zealand National Society for Earthquake Engineering, 29 (2): 92-106.

  • No labels

GeoNet is a collaboration between the Earthquake Commission and GNS Science.

about | contact | privacy | disclaimer | mobile

GeoNet content is copyright GNS Science and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand License