PREPARE: Enhancing PREParedness for East African Countries through Seismic Resilience Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Civil Engineering


PREPARE develops a holistic seismic risk management framework for East Africa and co-produces practical tools and guidelines for enhanced disaster preparedness in close partnerships with local governmental and academic institutions. It aims at overcoming existing barriers to designing seismically resilient infrastructure in least developed countries using advanced risk assessments and suitable low-cost engineering solutions. The first case study focuses on Malawi and then extends to other East African countries. PREPARE is problem-led; actual needs have been identified and informed by local partners. The proposal spans the Schools of Engineering and Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol and Cardiff University, with project partners in Malawi and other East African countries. A major goal of this proposal is to communicate and transfer the body of research to local beneficiaries, allowing for community-based emergency responses and ensuring documentable impacts.
PREPARE is composed of four work packages (WPs): WP1 - Development of integrated seismic impact assessment tools for Malawi; WP2 - Tectonic investigations of strain accumulation and release in the Malawi Rift system; WP3 - Seismic vulnerability assessment of Malawian masonry buildings; and WP4 - Expansion of the framework to other East African countries. The aims of WP1 are: to implement a comprehensive earthquake risk impact assessment methodology, with versatile capabilities to update the hazard, exposure, and vulnerability modules, to extend the method by accounting for other earthquake-induced hazards, such as liquefaction and landslide; and to produce seismic hazard-risk outcomes in the form of hazard-risk maps, site-specific seismic design spectra, and seismic design guidelines. The main goal of WP2 is to provide more accurate information regarding the potential earthquake rupture characteristics of the fault systems in Malawi (i.e. location, length and recurrence interval of large earthquakes). The results will be integrated into WP1. WP2-1 will focus on updating the fault map of Malawi, studying how fault segments interact and their relationship to geological fabrics. WP2-2 will focus on mapping the strain using satellite- and ground-based geodetic methods to identify which structures are active and the rate and depth of strain accumulation across them. The main goal of WP3 is to evaluate the seismic vulnerability of Malawian buildings through numerical analyses, supported by experimental data. In WP3-1, surveys will be conducted to gather building information in Malawi. WP3-2 will focus on testing of local bricks and brick wall structures in Malawi, whereas WP3-3 will focus on developing numerical models of typical masonry buildings in Malawi and corresponding seismic fragility models for assessing the earthquake risk (WP1). The primary goals of WP4 are to develop a strain-based seismic hazard model for East Africa, which is quite innovative, and to carry out seismic hazard-risk assessments for East African countries (using the updated tools from WP1).

Planned Impact

PREPARE will promote sound scientific and engineering approaches to understanding earthquake hazard and vulnerability in East Africa, aiming to build more resilient communities and expand local capacity to deal with disasters. The project will lay the foundation for integrating seismic hazard and risk into policies for long-term infrastructure development and short-term emergency management. Beginning with work in Malawi, the long-term aim of PREPARE is to provide a framework for seismic resilience throughout East Africa. The impact plan has been developed based on close discussions with local project partners. The key project partners are: University of Malawi Polytechnic, Geological Survey Department, Malawi Bureau of Standards, Malawi University of Science and Technology, University of Malawi Chancellors College, University of Cape Town, and The Eastern and Southern African Seismic Working Group.
During the 3-year project period, the following main activities are planned: (Activity1) two 5-day international workshops (summer 2017 and 2019; WP1&4), (Activity2) six field trips in Malawi and Ethiopia/Eritrea over the 3-year period (WP2), (Activity3) testing of local bricks and real-size wall structures at the University of Malawi Polytechnic (summer 2017 and 2018; WP3), (Activity4) 4-week research stay at Bristol by local partners (6 researchers in total; WP1 to WP4), (Activity5) open-source computational tool development for earthquake impact assessment, and (Activity6) academic publishing. All these activities are to promote the collaboration, co-learning, and co-production and to make a real impact in improving the disaster preparedness of communities in Malawi and other East African countries.
The main objectives of the international workshops (Activity1) are to bring together a broad cross-section of stakeholders and with significant training elements. During the workshops, the UK investigators and East African partners will work together to share the latest research results and outcomes from the project and to co-develop and coordinate future plans of the project activities. In particular, to improve seismic resilience in Malawi and other East African countries, joint training sessions on topics that are most relevant for the local partners will be held. The main objectives of the field trips in Malawi and Ethiopia/Eritrea (Activity2) are to gather geological, geodetic, and seismological data for WP2 and training junior scientists from local partners for fieldwork. The testing at the University of Malawi Polytechnic's structural lab facility (Activity3) will introduce the state-of-the-art methods (e.g. a video tracking system for measuring the deformation) to evaluate the seismic vulnerability of local masonry structures in Malawi. This will improve the local capacity on structural testing in Malawi, which is critically lacking at the moment. The partners' visit and stay at Bristol (Activity4) will consolidate long-term relationships with local partners in East Africa and facilitates the knowledge transfer from the UK to developing countries. The development of open-source/free tools for earthquake impact assessment (Activity5), such as GNU-Octave-based earthquake risk assessment platform and OpenSees-based finite-element structural models will improve the technical capacity of the local partners. Finally, the outcomes of the PREPARE project will be disseminated through open-access journal publications with publicly accessible research data as well as presentations at international conferences and meetings (Activity6). These processes will involve local partners so that their academic records will be strengthened.


10 25 50
Description 1. Faults in the Southern Malawi Rift have likely each formed through multiple seismic events, but even so, large-magnitude (M 7-8) earthquakes are possible in Malawi.
2. Construction materials and methods for housing in Malawi have changed rapidly over the last decade. Unreinforced masonry houses made of fired clay bricks are now prevalent. Due to low quality materials and construction practices, the seismic vulnerability of the housing stock is high.
3. A scenario-based earthquake impact assessment tool has been developed, using improved information on possible earthquake sources, local building characteristics, and seismic vulnerability functions. The tool can generate the probability distributions of the important exposure and risk metrics for seismic risk management purposes.
Exploitation Route The findings to date and further ongoing research under the grant will lead to updated seismic hazard and risk maps for Malawi. It is hoped that the findings will be used by Malawian government departments for planning, construction guidance/regulation and disaster risk management and that the methodologies developed will be used in other countries in the wider East African Rift region.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction

Description Malawi Polytechnic 
Organisation University of Malawi
Country Malawi 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Site survey and laboratory testing methodologies. Equipment for laboratory testing. Staff time for site surveys, laboratory testing, training, data analysis.and write-up of outputs.
Collaborator Contribution Local knowledge. Laboratory testing facilities. Staff time for site surveys, laboratory testing and write-up of outputs.
Impact Scenario-based seismic risk assessment for Malawi using improved information on earthquake sources and local building characteristics
Start Year 2017
Description GFDRR Rift2018 Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact RIFT2018 was a Regional Seismic Risk and Resilience Workshop organized by the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), which brought together government officials and academics from six East African Rift countries. It aimed to assess the risks and enable action to strengthen institutional and policy frameworks for seismic risk management and to build the capacity of selected national and local governments in Sub-Saharan Eastern Africa in the East African Rift Valley. Dr John Macdonald, PI on PREPARE, was one of four invited international speakers and gave input on the fragility of the built environment. The workshop resulted in each of the six country delegations preparing a challenge and opportunity plan to take back to their own governments. There were requests for further participation of the PREPARE team, especially in Uganda and Kenya
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Malawi Urban Forum III 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Organized by the Malawi Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, in collaboration with the National Habitat Committee, the Malawi Urban Forum III brought together a wide range of stakeholders to address the challenges of rapid urbanization in Malawi. The focus was "Towards Safe, Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements in Malawi". The PREPARE team was invited to contribute a talk. This was given by Dr Panos Kloukinas (RA on the project) on 'Seismic Disaster Preparedness and Resilience of Malawian Communities'. There was much interest and discussion on the talk and the session led to a recommendation that the forthcoming National Urban Plan make a specific reference regarding the need for hazard mapping in the country and the development/use of risk analysis tools, to assist risk management policymaking.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description PREPARE Workshop 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact The workshop was organized by the project team and took place in Malawi.
The main purposes of the UK-Malawi Disaster Research workshop were to:
•Strengthen existing links with academic/industrial/governmental partners
•Create new links for future collaboration among people who are interested in seismic disaster preparedness and resilience of Malawi and other East African countries
The workshop included a series of talks and discussion sessions giving an overview of the PREPARE project and presenting the methodology and findings. Participants contributed by giving talks on their research related to the workshop theme. The workshop provided the PREPARE investigators and partners with opportunities to brainstorm the next step of the development of the project. It comprised conference-style presentation sessions and project meetings for academics and professionals (43 delegates from 14 different organizations in Malawi, Uganda and Ethiopia) and workshop training modules (in class and in field) on Techtonics, Seismology, Structural & Earthquake Engineering and Seismic Vulnerability Assessment for students and junior academic staff from Malawian institutions (51 participants from 3 institutions).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2018