The European Macroseismic Scale was introduced in 1998 in order to simplify a description of an earthquake's effects into a single number.

The sensors for measuring earthquakes are usually based on one (or more) of four groups.

  • Living things - people and animals. As intensity increases, a greater proportion of people or animals (a) notice the shaking, and (b) are frightened by it.
  • Ordinary objects. As intensity increases, greater numbers of ordinary domestic items (crockery, books, etc) begin to shake and then be upset or thrown down.
  • Buildings. As intensity increases, buildings become progressively more severely damaged.
  • The natural environment. As intensity increases, there is an increasing likelihood of effects such as cracks in embankments, rockfalls, and so on.
The European Macroseismic Scale is based on three of these four (excluding the natural environment) and is the standard in most European countries for describing the intensity of earthquakes.

The EMS scale was drawn up by a working group ('Macroseismic Scale') of the European Seismological Commission. It took 9 years from the original proposal and over 30 people to draw up the scale (for a full list of contributors see

1   Not felt                Not felt, even under the most favourable       

2   Scarcely felt           Vibration is felt only by individual 
                            people at rest in houses, especially on  
                            upper floors of buildings.

3   Weak                    The vibration is weak and is felt indoors  
                            by a few people. People at rest feel a 
                            swaying or light trembling.

4   Largely observed        The earthquake is felt indoors by many 
                            people, outdoors by very few. A few  
                            people are awakened. The level of 
                            vibration is not frightening. Windows, 
                            doors and dishes rattle. Hanging 
                            objects swing.

5   Strong                  The earthquake is felt indoors by most,  
                            outdoors by few. Many sleeping people 
                            awake. A few run outdoors. Buildings 
                            tremble throughout. Hanging objects 
                            swing considerably. China and glasses 
                            clatter together. The vibration is 
                            strong. Top heavy objects topple over. 
                            Doors and windows swing open or shut.

6   Slightly damaging       Felt by most indoors and by many           
                            outdoors. Many people in buildings are 
                            frightened and run outdoors. Small 
                            objects fall. Slight damage to many 
                            ordinary buildings e.g.; fine cracks 
                            in plaster and small pieces of plaster 

7   Damaging                Most people are frightened and run 
                            outdoors. Furniture is shifted and 
                            objects fall from shelves in large 
                            numbers. Many ordinary buildings 
                            suffer moderate damage: small cracks 
                            in walls; partial collapse of chimneys.

8   Heavily damaging        Furniture may be overturned. Many 
                            ordinary buildings suffer damage: 
                            chimneys fall; large cracks appear in 
                            walls and a few buildings may 
                            partially collapse.

9   Destructive             Monuments and columns fall or are 
                            twisted. Many ordinary buildings 
                            partially collapse and a few collapse 

10  Very destructive        Many ordinary buildings collapse.

11  Devastating             Most ordinary buildings collapse.

12  Completely devastating  Practically all structures above and below 
                            ground are heavily damaged or destroyed. 
Sources :