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Risk Assessment

About earthquake risk

Earthquakes are only one of the hazards many of us are faced with, but they differ from other natural hazards. Globally 2 billion people were affected by disasters between 2000 and 2009 of which 44% were affected by floods, 30% by drought and only 4% by earthquakes. However, 60% of those killed in disasters died in earthquakes during that period. Compared to disasters like floods, earthquakes have long ‘return periods’; they only occur once every so often. But when they do, they happen suddenly and with little warning and their impact is often significant. When earthquakes strike there is not enough time to evacuate people or protect buildings and belongings. Risk from earthquakes hence needs to be mitigated and managed before.

GEM's Framework

We take pride in collaboratively taking risk assessment to the next level and we therefore promote holistic risk assessment. This framework drives development of tools and resources:


  • Models of seismic hazard are built on a complex combination of geophysical and geological data. Historical and instrumental catalogues of events, together with databases of active faults and models of geodetic strain form a critical basis for the development of global models of earthquake hazard. At regional scales, data and models of earthquake hazard are developed together with local experts to form a reliable basis for seismic hazard assessment.
  • Potential losses from earthquakes in terms of damage to structures and people can be estimated for the first time on a global scale and in a consistent manner.
  • Composite indices of social vulnerability, resilience and indirect economic loss can be coupled to physical risk (loss and damage estimates) in order to assess risk in an integrated manner.

Risk Assessment with GEM tools and resources

There are many ways to assess risk from earthquakes. How you choose to assess or analyse risk depends on the context, the information you have available how you want to use the results of your analysis.

Combining different types of information helps to understand risk. Think for example of a map that overlays information of past earthquakes in the region, the known faults and the people living in that area. Because earthquakes are rare events however, such map does not necessarily provide you with an idea of how likely it is that an earthquake will occur again, in what timeframe and if it does, what could be the resulting loss and damage.

Through the tools and resources we are developing and that we will render available through the OpenQuake Platform, we will support such insights.

We do that by sharing datasets, regional and global models of earthquake hazard and earthquake risk and ready-to-use results at global scale. But what we mainly want to do is empower you: provide you with the tools that fit your needs and knowledge so that you can carry out your own analysis, from complex modelling to learning about buildings and their vulnerability in earthquakes in your region.

From global to local

Risk reduction and therefore also risk assessment needs to take place at local scales. But before we can do that, we first need to bring knowledge together. At the moment there is little global best practice available for risk approaches and risk itself to be compared between countries and between regions. Also data is sparse and often insufficient to get real value out. All this called for a global response and that is what GEM is providing an answer to.

Until 2014 we are building a global framework (of data, methods and tools), that will provide a basis for risk assessment worldwide as well as collaboration to enhance understanding and reduction. Through the OpenQuake platform we offer this framework to all our stakeholders so that you can use it, share and improve it.

We work on a global scale not only because we think our strength is in leveraging advanced science for real risk assessment worldwide, but also because there are many important initiatives and organisations working on risk assessment, reduction and transfer, in particular on local scales; however their assessments are not always based on the latest science or technologies. And that is what we want to change. 

To facilitate the process from global to local risk assessment, we are building partnerships worldwide and organise workshops to facilitate knowledge-sharing and trainings to empower individuals to use GEM tools and resources.