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Tools | 22 Sep 2012

Building a safer Ecuador

"The usage of OpenQuake released by GEM helped in gaining credibility in front of civil engineers and practitioners who are often reluctant to accept higher seismic demands for structural design, and so it facilitated the acceptance of the new seismic zonation map." - Hugo Yepes, scientist responsible for Ecuador's seismic zonation in the new Ecuador’s Building Code.


The Ecuadorian Ministry of Urban Development and Housing (MIDUVI) initiated an important project aimed at updating Ecuador’s Building Code. The Instituto Geofísico (IG) at the Escuela Politécnica Nacional (EPN) was asked by the ministry to develop new national seismic hazard maps for the Seismic Design chapter of the Code. IG was keen on using the OpenQuake calculation engine that is being developed within the scope of GEM for state-of-the-art seismic hazard and risk calculations, and had just been released as open-source software.


The unique collaboration between Ecuadorian and French scientists, GEM, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Urban Development and Housing and the local Construction Chamber is the basis for the developments that aim to have a lasting impact on Ecuador’s seismic risk landscape.

The Instituto Geofísico teamed up with research scientist Céline Beauval from the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) to develop the new hazard maps using the OpenQuake Engine, with technical support of GEM’s Model Facility team. IG scientists, led by Hugo Yepes, in turn collaborated closely with MIDUVI’s national seismic building code-seismic hazard commission. The Housing Ministry became a GEM public participant representing Ecuador in GEM’s Governing Board. In this position - together with other public and private partners – they are guiding GEM efforts and follow latest developments providing with feedbacks on how GEM tools can best be applied or adapted according to the specific needs in the Ecuadorian context.


This map shows one of the intermediate seismic hazard calculations performed during the project. Warmer colors represent higher hazard. Coastal territories show higher hazard related to their proximity to Nazca-South America subduction zone, but populated

Carrying out state-of-the-art hazard calculations

The OpenQuake Engine was installed on a computer at ISTerre laboratory in Grenoble and after explanations about the NRML data-exchange format and other aspects of the software, IRD and IG scientists started calculating hazard estimates. Several years were necessary for IG and IRD scientists to prepare the input models and parameters, and have them ready for being integrated in the OpenQuake engine. Supported by GEM’s Model Facility, they tested the models and carried out sensitivity studies. IG and IRD subsequently created seismic hazard maps for the entire country for shallow crust, interface and intraslab sources, by using a variety of GMPEs.

Ecuador’s New Building Code

The technical committee of the national building code commission [Comité Ejecutivo del Código Ecuatoriano de la Construcción] used the seismic hazard maps for establishing the seismic zones for the new national building code. The ‘Norma Ecuatoriana de la Construcción’ or NEC-11 was released for public discussions in 2011 and comprises 16 chapters:

  • The chapter on seismic hazard and seismic design features a number of maps and curves produced with OpenQuake and can be downloaded here.
  • Paragraph 3.5 on seismic risk assessment of NEC-11's Chapter 3 on seismic risk and structures retrofitting explicitly requires practitioners who are evaluating seismic risk to follow GEM methodologies which enable to apply methods and practices accepted worldwide

After release of NEC-11 final draft, presentations and seminars have been organized by the technical committee around the country to interact with engineers, explain them about the code and receive feedback before the new code is officially approved and enforced.

Vulnerability Studies for essential structures

Taking the new seismic hazard maps as a basis, a project is currently being prepared by Ecuadorian engineers to assess the seismic vulnerability of public buildings of major importance to the country and its people such as hospitals and schools 


Facilitating seismic hazard experts

The availability of OpenQuake, and the support of its developers, facilitated Ecuadorian scientists to feed local data and knowledge in the computing engine and to perform seismic hazard calculations for Ecuador following state of the art international standards.

Improving seismic risk perception

Ecuador’s new building code is in the process of being approved, but the fact that engineers will need to follow the standards for seismic risk assessment defined by the scientific community that GEM is applying and implementing will have an important impact not only for the country itself but also for global risk assessment in general. GEM’s vulnerability tools implement the methods developed by the international scientific community and constitute state-of-the art guidelines for risk assessment. The availability of GEM’s Tools will encourage users to follow International standards and produce hazard maps of improved quality.

Linking decision-making with science

Ecuador is setting a great example for other countries and regions that are looking to reduce the risk from earthquakes and that need to work together in the scope of a global effort, in order to continuously learn and improve our understanding of seismic hazard and risk around the world. GEM is shaping such context and creates the opportunity to collaborate, with the goal to empower people and organizations to assess risk, and in order to see how we can best apply this knowledge to build resilience to earthquakes.

ecuador, hazard assessment, map, national