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Civil Engineering Magazine THE MAGAZINE OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS

Open, Global Earthquake Modeling System Available

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

A new open-source platform released by the Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM) allows users around the globe to perform seismic hazard and risk calculations.

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The new platform will enable engineers and civic planners from around the globe to calculate and compare the risks and hazards of such seismic events as the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force

February 3, 2015—Calculating the seismic hazard and physical risk of a location is critical for engineers and city officials alike, enabling structures to be designed and built appropriately and facilitating effective community-based disaster planning. A new open-source modeling platform known as OpenQuake Platform 1.0has been released by the Pavia, Italy-based nonprofit known as the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) Foundation to make calculating such seismic risks easier. By creating a uniform language to describe buildings and assessment tools that can be used globally, the foundation has, for the first time, created a system of analyzing risk that is directly comparable between geographically—and linguistically—disparate locations.

The foundation's focus is divided into three main categories: seismic hazard, seismic risk, and integrated risk, explains Vitor Silva, Ph.D., the foundation's seismic risk coordinator. The OpenQuake Platform supports each of these, bringing together the models, databases, and applications that the GEM community has spent the last five years creating. "What distinguishes OpenQuake from previous [seismic risk] tools is the fact that everything is tested, documented, and open-source—you transfer data in its purest form," Silva says. "So if you assess hazard or risk in Indonesia using these tools, and then also do the same in Mexico, the results will actually be comparable because the methodology that you used is uniform. And this is something that I think is quite important." 

Because earthquakes may have long return periods and strike unexpectedly, the more that communities in seismically active areas know about earthquake behavior and potential impacts, the better prepared they can be, according to the foundation. 

Within the OpenQuake Platform is the OpenQuake engine, which is a calculator that performs the hazard and risk assessment and the loss modeling, according to Silva. The platform also contains online libraries and datasets that can be used, as well as hazard- and risk-modeling tools, and a social vulnerability and integrated risk "plug-in" module.

The foundation has a database of almost 1,000 historic earthquakes, 133 building typologies identified in its taxonomy, and information from almost 150 countries already within its system. Even so, the amount of available information is expected to grow steadily. The platform and its tools encourage users to input their own regional information as they calculate the seismic risk of potential earthquakes, create disaster-management plans, examine the performance of particular building typologies, or establish the areas within a region that exhibit the highest risk in a future event.

"Since everything is open source, we hope that other users, other experts, and institutions will also contribute perhaps their calculation codes, developing specific modules in OpenQuake," Silva says. "You may compare this with Wikipedia—just like there is a community contributing new articles and information, we hope that in the future there will also be engineers and other experts contributing with their models and calculation modules." 

The platform can run calculations on different scales, providing users with a snapshot of a nation, region, city, or—ultimately—an even more fine-grained snapshot of an specific part of a city, according to Silva. The more information users input into the platform to share with others, the more successful the platform will be for everyone interested in calculating seismic hazard and risk. 

The suite of tools is also flexible in terms of their usage, Silva says, and can run on a single offline laptop or on a server of computers. Making some tools available offline enables practitioners and researchers in the field to input information as it is collected, an important feature for those conducting on-site post-disaster reconnaissance investigations, according to Paul Henshaw, the foundation's director of technology and development.

"The platform provides access to tools for collecting data and for working with it," Henshaw says. "So users who have downloaded [specific] tools can collect information about buildings and perhaps about damage to buildings and can share them with us."

The foundation continues to work on additional types of calculations that will be added to the platform as they become available. Specific regional collaborations are also now under way, and these include input from South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and California, according to Henshaw. "As these projects move forward and the results become available, they will feed into the platform and we will then identify needs for improvements to the existing tools," Henshaw says.

The foundation anticipates that users will come from many different fields, expecting a "mix of private-sector, public-sector, commercial, noncommercial, [and] nongovernmental organizations, [as well as] research institutions and nation-states—it's really important for us to have these different points of view and bring them together," Henshaw notes.

Users can register to use Open Quake Platform for free and begin using its tools by visiting https://platform.openquake.org/.

 

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