About The Resilience Institute

The Resilience Institute is part of WWU Huxley’s College of the Environment. It facilitates scholarship, education, and practice on reducing social and physical vulnerability through sustainable community development, as a way to minimize loss and enhance recovery from disasters in Washington State and its interdependent global communities.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Earthquake scenario and planning

This week I participated in EERI's very engaging Earthquake Scenario Planning Workshop. It was a fascinating mix of seismologist, engineers, planners, and a smattering of social scientists and public officials. While we were all bent on using developing earthquake scenarios, there was considerable fuzziness over what these scenarios could and should do.

Many scenarios have been developed as emergency response planning tools for massive planning exercises. The Great Southern California ShakeOut - a hybrid response exercise and public awareness campaign - is an upcoming example. For these purposes, the scenario development process seems rather straight forward, though often very labor intensive. Develop your hazard model, add in your infrastructure inventory and census data, develop fragility curves, etc. The results are typically presented as maps of shaking intensity, building damage, and calculations of death, injuries, and people displaced from their homes.

But what if the scenario is not for response planning, but for mitigation and planning? Are these outputs useful for people like city council members, majors,urban planners, and community service providers? The general assumption at the workshop was yes, but I have strong doubts. I'm not convinced that these decision makers would necessarily know what to do given maps of shaking, damage, deaths, injuries and displacement. These aren't exactly the indicators they work with on a daily basis. Nor are they, I suspect, the indicators that they consider when campaigning for re-election.

What is probably much more salient for this crowd is indicators such as poverty rate, unemployment, housing vacancy rates, and school overcrowding. If this is the case, perhaps we should challenge ourselves to further push our scenarios and models forward into the often fuzzy areas of social consequence. While it may be much more difficult, such enhanced scenarios may catch the imagination and raise concerns among planners, policy makers and service providers. These are the very groups needed to successfully develop and implement the mitigation and community resilience policies necessary to make a massive emergency response unnecessary.

It behooves us to think about the users of our scenarios. We should ask them early on what indicators they need...and what will jolt them into taking earthquake risk seriously.

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