Christchurch Cathedral via Getty Images
And what about developing countries, where it's not economically feasible to incorporate anti-earthquake technologies into houses and office buildings? Are they doomed to suffer thousands of casualties every time the earth shakes? Not necessarily. Teams of engineers are working all over the world to design earthquake-resistant structures using locally available or easily obtainable materials. For example, in Peru, researchers have made traditional adobe structures much stronger by reinforcing walls with plastic mesh. In India, engineers have successfully used bamboo to strengthen concrete. And in Indonesia, some homes now stand on easy-to-make bearings fashioned from old tires filled with sand or stone.
Even cardboard can become a sturdy, durable construction material. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has designed several structures that incorporate cardboard tubes coated with polyurethane as the primary framing elements. In 2013, Ban unveiled one of his designs -- the Transitional Cathedral -- in Christchurch, New Zealand. The church uses 98 giant cardboard tubes reinforced with wooden beams [source: Slezak]. Because the cardboard-and-wood structure is extremely light and flexible, it performs much better than concrete during seismic events. And if it does collapse, it's far less likely to crush people gathered inside. All in all, it makes you want to treat the cardboard tubes nestled in your toilet paper roll with a little more respect.