Rui Pinho, Secretary General of the GEM Foundation, speaking at the opening of the 2010 Understanding Risk Forum.
By Rui Pinho
GENEVA, 16 July 2012
- It is truly humbling to see how easily we are fooled by nature but we can also draw hard-won insights from the defeats caused by earthquakes. We used to think that the age and speed of a subducting slab governs its maximum earthquake magnitude but the Great East Japan Earthquake forever puts to rest that view.
The May earthquake and aftershocks which occurred in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, are of a different nature but they also tell us that in order to advance seismic risk assessment and to make society more resilient to earthquakes, we need to work and learn together.
The Emilia earthquake and aftershocks and other recent tremors such as in New Mexico and the central part of the US, remind us that there are few areas in the world that are safe from small-medium earthquakes. We also saw that small-medium sized earthquakes can cause devastation and severe damage when they hit vulnerable areas; areas where many people live, and where buildings, critical infrastructure or economic assets are fragile.
The question is how to take stock of these events and the lessons they teach us to make sure they contribute to our understanding of earthquakes and improve our ability to assess the risk of future earthquakes.
Each country has its own approach to earthquake hazard and risk analysis and some countries possess resources, tools and scientific expertise to build their own models but none of these can be tested in less then 50 years, few of them can be easily inter-compared and all suffer from data gaps. If we want to fully learn from recent events and improve our models and data, we cannot do that in isolation.
We need a set of open tools for stakeholders around the globe to model and explore risk. We need international dialogue to discuss and vet ideas and approaches on risk assessment. We need worldwide collaboration on data, and with that input we can jointly and transparently build global models that capture the state-the-of-the-art, test them together, and make sure everyone can use and learn from them.
Worldwide, various efforts are being undertaken to address those needs and GEM, the Global Earthquake Model initiative, is one of them.
GEM aims to be an open initiative promoting and supporting worldwide collaboration on earthquake risk and risk assessment. Within the scope of GEM, experts at global and regional level are jointly developing tools and resources for governmental institutions, local and international organizations and corporations, scientists and individuals to explore, assess and understand earthquake risk, helping them to better mitigate the risk they deal with. By collaborating with organizations and initiatives around the globe we are jointly contributing to a more resilient society.
The recently launched 'clearinghouse' for the Emilia earthquake is the fruit of such international collaboration. Hosted by the EUCENTRE (European Centre for Training and Research in Earthquake Engineering) and EERI (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute), it allows experts worldwide to share data (photos, observations, links) on the consequences of the event and will be an important source of information for future risk assessments.
In the struggle to increase resilience to earthquakes there is much more we can do - and need to do - together.