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South America


The South America Risk Assessment (SARA) project took off in January 2013.

The three-year project aims to calculate hazard and risk, as well as to estimate the compounding social and economic factors that aggravate the physical damage and decrease the post-event capacity of populations to respond to and recover from damaging earthquakes in South America, by involving local experts from the region.

The project has been now extended to 7 countries: Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. In addition to the seismic risk assessment at a national scale, a number of detailed city scenarios are also being developed, with the purposes of producing important results for communication of risk and disaster risk reduction.  Lima and Quito have been selected for the city scenarios. 

More than 50 experts from 17 local and 2 European organization have been involved in the project together with stakeholders and institutions from 10 countries, with the support of the SwissRe Foundation.

“Our collaboration with the Global Earthquake Model in South America is perhaps our most ambitious and long-range effort at disaster risk reduction. The region is not only exposed to high levels of seismic hazard, but it is particularly vulnerable physically as well as socioeconomically. No one will take action, however, unless they are convinced they are at risk”. SwissRe Foundation


Science: Collaborative development of region-specific risk information to support well-informed decision making processes and risk management practice

Application: Local capacity development to empower local communities for understanding and managing risk

Cross-fertilization: Creation of a regional and inter-disciplinary network of technical/scientific experts and practitioners in risk assessment and reduction


The project mainly revolves around 4 modules: hazard, physical vulnerability and exposure, social vulnerability and city scenarios. These modules will be carried out by a variety of experts/scientists from the region, in collaboration with the project coordinators and where relevant the GEM Secretariat.


Seismic Hazard


  • Building a seismic hazard model for the region
    • Archive of seismic catalogues including historical and instrumental seismicity
    • Database of GPS data, and harmonised database with shallow active faults and subduction interface faults
    • Evaluation and testing of GMPEs in the region
  • Hazard calculations and maps


  • A harmonized compilation for some of the recent national hazard models in South America.
  • A harmonized database of active faults with information provided by national agencies and universities from Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile.
  • A first version of the historical catalogue for the region from 1000 till 1930 including more than 2000 earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and larger.
  • The first model for the subduction earthquake sources based on seismological and geophysical information.
  • A harmonized instrumental catalogue for the region covering the period 1930-today based on information contained in several national and international catalogues and containing about 93000 earthquakes of magnitude larger than 2.0
  • A database of strong-motion recordings for South America based on recording from about 370 earthquakes recorder within Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Chile
  • Development of several tools and methods for processing basic information following specific requests coming from the local scientists involved in the project (e.g. a simple tool for active data fault collection, software for building and processing strong-motion databases, a software for the construction of a harmonized catalogue starting from many heterogeneous datasets).


Physical Vulnerability / Exposure


The activities comprised within the physical vulnerability and exposure component of SARA project have three main targets: the development of a regional earthquake risk model for South America; the improvement of the capacity and expertise of local risk modelers and decision-makers; and the creation of a network of experts from different fields of seismic risk assessment and reduction. 


• An exposure model of residential buildings for the Andean countries using national building census data at different geographical scales, as well as the expert opinion of local engineers from Argentina Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. In addition, local researchers have also developed national and subnational models with a higher detail and accuracy.

• An exposure database for Chile with information of buildings by blocks created by the National Research Center for Integrated Natural Disaster Management (CIGIDEN).

• A model for the department of Antioquia (Colombia) based on field surveys and remote observations by experts from the EAFIT University.

• A set of new fragility functions for the most common building typologies, including adobe, masonry, stone and reinforced concrete structures. Local partners are contributing with the development of models for unreinforced masonry buildings and reinforced masonry concrete blocks. Other efforts are in course in order to produce fragility models for common residential buildings in Peru (with collaboration of researchers from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru - PUCP), and Venezuela (with researchers from the Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research – FUNVISIS).


Socio-Economic Vulnerability and Resilience


The main activities of this component are comprised of the development of composite indicators of social vulnerability and resilience along with their robustness testing and validation. The objective is to provide tools and information useful for understanding the potential effects of earthquakes in communities of South America. 


• Development of standardized databases of indicators for countries within the Andean Region at sub-national levels of geography. This information is being used to evaluate the social vulnerability of populations within the region at subnational levels of geography, and at sub-city levels of geography in cities such as Lima and Quito.

• Development of the Integrated Risk Modelling Toolkit (IRMT), a QGIS plugin that allow users to form an integrated workflow to assess the social vulnerability and resilience of populations in a robust and meaningful way.

• Development of the Resilience Performance Scorecard (RPS) to account for context within South America. The RPS was originally developed as a collaborative effort between the GEM, the Center for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology (CEDIM), and the South Asia Institute (SAI). The scorecard is a multilevel and multi-scale self-evaluation tool that empowers stakeholders to quantitatively assess risk and resilience parameters based on qualitatively derived information.

City Scenarios


Following the objectives of SARA, the development of city scenarios is crucial for planning risk management strategies in cities with larger concentration of population and exposed to significant hazard. 


Risk models are currently being finalized for Lima (Peru), Quito (Ecuador), Medellin, Bogota, Cali (Colombia), Iquique, Rancagua and Osorno (Chile) with the collaboration of local organizations, such as the National Center for Assessment, Prevention and Disaster Risk Reduction (CENEPRED) of Peru. Such models encompass an exposure database of residential buildings by blocks, recently developed fragility or vulnerability functions, and ground shaking scenarios for strong seismic events.


Capacity Development

Capacity Development and knowledge sharing is an integral part of the SARA project. This mostly happens in the form of hands-on workshops and trainings with experts from the region and with the partners and networks:

With Experts

 Partnerships and networks: national, regional and international levels

  • 7 regional workshops on hazard modeling and risk assessment topics
  • 1 regional workshop on Integrated Risk Modeling 

Training and technology transfer

  • 2 regional trainings on GEM’s tools (hazard modeling and risk assessment)
  • Training at GEM Headquarters for 4 hazard experts and 4 risk experts from the region
  • Participation of risk experts in risk course at University College of London (GEM partner) 

With Institutions

Institutional strengthening

  • Tools and methods developed to respond to local needs
  • 2-weeks Risk course at Catholic University of Peru
  • Training on building inventories using GEM tools for public institutions in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia
  • GEM-SARA support at Swiss Re-organized client events in Chile and Peru

Information sharing

  • Models, datasets and results freely available through a web-platform (SARA Wiki)
  • Presentations and special sessions at three international scientific conferences 


Chile: Centro Nacional de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada 

Colombia: Servicio Geologico Colombiano, Universidad EAFIT 

Ecuador: Escuela Politécnica Nacional

Peru: Centro Peruano-Japonés de Investigaciones Sísmicas y Mitigación de Desastres, Centro Nacional de Estimación, Prevención y Reducción de Riesgos de Desastres, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

Venezuela: Fundación Venezolana de Investigaciones Sismológicas

France: UNESCO

In addition there are many researchers that collaborate on the different sub-topics related to seismic hazard from all countries mentioned, plus Uruguay.

From the GEM Secretariat, Jairo Valcàrcel, Julio Antonio Garcia, Catalina Yepes Estrada, Miguel Toquica and Mabé Villar are collaborators from the continent that play an active role in the project. Coordinators Marco Pagani, Vitor Silva and Christopher Burton and scientists Graeme Weatherill, Anirudh Rao and Chiara Casotto are furthermore working on the project.