Measuring earthquake risk

Earthquake hazard assessment for safety critical and economically sensitive structures

Earthquakes pose significant risks to human life and infrastructure. Over 80 destructive earthquakes have occurred in the last century, resulting in 21,000 fatalities, over a million people left homeless and economic losses exceeding £10 billion. Pioneering research at the University of Liverpool is reducing uncertainty in the quantification of seismic hazards and providing state-of-the art solutions to government and industry.

The challenge

Earthquake hazard assessment in regions of low or moderate seismicity, such as central and northern Europe has, until recently, assumed that earthquake effects can be considered globally applicable. However, recent research shows that regional or site-specific seismic information is essential.

Regional or site-specific models allow better city planning by helping decision makers to identify and prioritise where seismically designed structures are required. This more detailed knowledge can improve emergency response and recovery planning by directing attention and resources to more vulnerable regions.

Research action

Research at the University of Liverpool led by Dr Ben Edwards is delivering state-of-the-art advances in the understanding and quantification of site-specific seismic hazard. Seismic activity is often imperceivable to people at the surface, but regional monitoring data can be used to predict the larger, more damaging earthquakes, as well as the resulting ground-shaking fields over time.

The site-specific ground motions that buildings need to resist provide invaluable insights into earthquake engineering. The group’s current work focuses on areas where the probability of seismic action is low, but would lead to devastating losses in densely populated urban areas, or at safety-critical or economically sensitive sites and facilities as schools, hospitals and nuclear power plants.

Working in partnership

The seismic hazard tools developed by researchers at the University of Liverpool are used around the world in prediction, real-time analysis and monitoring of earthquake hazards in specific areas, thus reducing uncertainties.

Edward’s group works in partnership with a variety of national and multinational industrial clients such as nuclear power and onshore oil, as well as academic partners to provide research-driven solutions and consultation to the challenge of earthquake hazard and risk, satisfying high levels of regulatory compliance.

Within the scope of a newly established EU Innovative Training Network, the group is working to enhance the field of urban engineering seismology through project URBASIS, under The Liverpool Institute for Risk and Uncertainty. The project is a collaboration between high-profile European academic institutions and global engineering and reinsurance companies.

Outputs and outcomes

Results are being used by industry, governments and regulators to determine high-resolution, site-specific seismic hazard in a variety of contexts: from local issues like fracking-induced seismicity in northwest England, to nuclear power plants and onshore gas extraction across Europe, and for routine seismic monitoring at the Swiss Seismological Service.

The techniques are informing regulation and regulatory compliance, and boosting understanding of spatial and temporal hazard and risk to answer important questions related to risk appetite and acceptance. It also allows consideration of the cost-benefit to industries that may induce seismic activity, or those that are particularly sensitive to earthquakes.

Regional seismic monitoring can predict earthquake activity, benefitting national and global businesses, industry and the general population.

Dr Ben Edwards