Probability and Uncertainty in Risk Estimation and Communication

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

Our overall aim is to build earthquake resilience in China by improving (a) the assessment of seismic hazard and risk from earthquakes and consequent events and (b) the communication and use of probabilistic information in the development of more proportionate and risk-based strategies for disaster risk reduction. We will build on and extend a recently-developed historical catalogue for earthquakes, extend it for the first time to include consequent events (landslides, debris/mud-flows, outburst floods), unify this new database with modern instrumental data, use state-of the art statistical techniques to quantify the associated uncertainties, and incorporate social science-based understanding of risk communication and governance to improve policy development and implementation. The work programme will be carried out in Si-chuan (including the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake) and Yun-nan provinces. While they are both tectonically active, and mountainous, and thus vulnerable not only to earthquakes but also to consequent hazards of earthquake-triggered landslides and flooding, Si-chuan is one of the wealthiest provinces in China, while Yun-nan is one of poorest. These differences in wealth, combined with the recency of the devastating 2008 Wenchuan in Si-chuan compared to the more attenuated memory of the 1996 Lijiang earthquake in Yun-nan, make for a natural experiment in which to test the efficacy of improved probabilistic assessment of risk and associated uncertainty to people and property by earthquakes, and consequent event hazards, in supporting more risk-based approaches to disaster reduction.

This project will promote long-term sustainable growth in earthquake prone regions of China by improving both the assessment of earthquake hazard and consequent event risk and the communication, understanding, and use of the resulting probabilistic forecasts for disaster risk reduction by policymakers and local publics. It addresses several specific capacity gaps identified in successive Chinese national disaster risk reduction strategies. As well as engaging with policymakers at both the national and local levels to improve the effectiveness of emergency planning and building code regulation, we will also engage directly with local publics to enhance public understanding of risk and capacity to deal with it. In so doing, the project will also fulfil the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment to promoting "the economic development and welfare of developing countries" by drawing on UK's science base to address a key vulnerability differentially affecting the very poorest in China.

Planned Impact

This project will promote long-term sustainable growth in earthquake prone regions of China by improving both the assessment of earthquake hazard and consequent event risk and the communication, understanding, and use of the resulting probabilistic forecasts for disaster risk reduction by policymakers and local publics. In so doing, it will contribute to the wider aims of the IRNHiC programme and of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment to poverty alleviation and sustainable development by addressing a key vulnerability differentially affecting the very poorest in China.

Engagement with the Chinese Earthquake Administration (CEA) and with provincial earthquake agencies will ensure that technical improvements in forecasting capacity are quickly translated into operational use in China.

Institutional barriers to using probabilistic information for emergency planning will be addressed through engagement with the China National Committee for Disaster Reduction, while improved building code regulation will be delivered through engagement with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD). The capacity of local policymakers to understand and use probabilistic forecasts will also be addressed through targeted engagement in our two case study sites.

The project will also improve public understanding of and resilience to earthquake hazard and consequent event risks in China by:

*providing evidence-based recommendations about how agencies might share more complex earthquake forecast information in ways that are understandable by local publics

*engaging with the Working Group for National Hazard Maps (WG4NHM) of China to ensure that lessons from earthquake hazard mapping are applied to the communication of risk about other natural hazards in China

*engaging directly with local publics through school in our case study provinces to enhance public understanding and thus preparedness and resilience

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description the project has now ended, but we are still doing some data analysis, in particularly of a public perception survey (n=~1000) in Yunnan.

But several key findings about the institutional challenges in using probabilistic earthquake hazard information to improve earthquake resilience are already abundantly clear.

Understanding of and access to earthquake hazard maps and other risk information is limited, and public awareness remains low. Time-independent forecasts of long-term hazard were seen by officials as more useful than time-dependent forecasts, which were too uncertain to be immediately actionable and only useful, if at all, for emergency response planning. Particularly at lower administrative levels, government officials, were often unsure about how they might use probabilistic information to carry out their various responsibilities more effectively. While officials expressed concern about false alarms and reluctance to act in the face of warnings at low and uncertain probabilities, institutional uncertainties about unclear and overlapping mandates and the weakness of inter-departmental coordination posed much greater challenges to disaster risk reduction.
Exploitation Route Chinese earthquake authorities will need to work more closely with their counterparts across government to overcome these barriers
Sectors Construction,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description We have been working with the Yunnan Provincial Earthquake Authority to help them improve their understanding of the needs of their 'users'-- officials in other government agencies who receive earthquake forecasts and bulletins provided by the Provincial Earthquake Authority. To that end we helped convene a workshop, which brought agencies officials together with their users for the first time. This has helped improve mutual understanding and will contribute both to better targeting of earthquake information and some improved capacity of users actually to use the earthquake information they receive. On a return visit in 2018, we made a formal presentation to senior officials in the Yunnan Earthquake Authority about project findings and engaged with county-level officials. They were particularly keen for advice about how best to visualise and communicate probabilistic information, which we provided.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Construction,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description seminar presentation for Yunnan Earthquake Authority 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact At the invitation of the Yunnan Earthquake Authority, Professor David Demeritt made a formal presentation describing key findings from past research on the communication and use of probabilistic warnings and outlining emerging findings from out ongoing research on earthquake resilience in China
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018