Reuters

Creating a better measure of non-physical urban factors in post-earthquake damage.

A big earthquake plus rickety buildings equals devastation in cities. But unstable buildings aren't the only factor we should be worrying about, according to researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain. Social conditions should also play into considerations about how much risk a city faces.

Current seismic risk analysis on cities considers the physical factors – how old buildings are, what the building codes and standards were when those buildings were built, and how many people could be expected to be in those buildings if an earthquake were to occur. Helpful, yes. But the researchers argue that other conditions should also be considered, including the number of hospital beds nearby, the training level of hospital staff, the preponderance of marginalized neighborhoods, and rates of crime.

A city with old buildings that has a strong network of neighbors and an efficient emergency services system will be at less risk of overall damage from an earthquake compared to a city with the same old buildings but none of the social networks or emergency services. Based on a sample use of this approach, Barcelona was found to have a medium-low risk, while Bogota was found to have a medium-high risk.

By accounting for factors like the strengths and weaknesses and the city's governance and the social cohesion of neighborhoods, the risk levels of different cities can be put in better context. And by understanding which places are facing more risk, better preparations can be made to reduce post-earthquake problems arising from the non-physical factors that may end up being more damaging than the earthquake itself.

Photo credit: Reuters

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of Zurich, Switzerland
    Life

    Death to Livability!

    What does it really mean when certain kinds of cities keep getting ranked as the world’s “most livable”?

  2. A rendering of Quayside, the waterfront development now being planned for Toronto.
    Solutions

    A Big Master Plan for Google's Growing Smart City

    Google sibling company Sidewalk Labs has revealed its master plan for the controversial Quayside waterfront development—and it’s a lot bigger.

  3. A photo of Donald Trump in the Oval Office, with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.
    Equity

    Don’t Call Trump’s Housing Order a YIMBY Plan

    The president just signed an executive order calling for states and cities to pursue zoning reform. But affordable housing advocates aren’t celebrating.

  4. Design

    Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Era of Big Plans

    A conversation with the trio of authors behind a new book about the Steel City’s mid-20th-century transformation.

  5. a photo of commuters on Oakland's Bay Bridge.
    Transportation

    Can Waze Convince Commuters to Carpool Again?

    Google’s wayfinding company wants to help drivers and riders find each other on its navigation app—and ease traffic congestion along the way.

×