Seismic Cities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Earth and Environment


Over 50 capital cities of the Least Developed Countries in the world lie on top of faults in regions that are building up significant stresses within the crust. This continually growing stress will eventually lead to future earthquakes. Earthquakes are a natural hazard that are killing an increasing number of people, in part because populations are growing and densifying into urban centres. The recurrence time between earthquakes may be hundreds of years; many cities that are large today were small towns or non-existent in the past when the last big earthquake struck. There is often little social and community memory and first-hand experience of these previous events. Furthermore, urban development in the intervening years has often hidden the expressions of the active earthquake faults beneath and around a city, making them harder to identify today. In the Least Developed Countries, the impact of earthquakes on people's lives and livelihoods is much greater due to the vulnerability of buildings and communities.

A major challenge has been to ensure that the mitigation of earthquake risk is a high priority in vulnerable cities, where earthquakes rarely occur but are devastating when they do. This is particularly difficult in cities in the least developed countries, where building earthquake resilience has to be balanced against other economic & social pressures facing cities & their development. We will develop a blueprint for the concept of "Seismic Cities", which we believe will be a powerful approach for raising awareness of the devastating potential of earthquakes in cities & for making them more sustainable & resilient to such shocks. This will be a biennial workshop & event that will bring together a range of stakeholders to target communities vulnerable to seismic hazard, and to develop more sustainable cities that can better cope with future environmental shocks from earthquakes. This will build on an existing successful concept of Cities On Volcanoes-a biennial conference and series of workshops that aims to reduce the impacts of volcanism & its effects on society by understanding volcanic phenomena, recognising the hazards & their impacts on people, emergency management, community education, case histories & risk mitigation.

In order to test the effectiveness of our methodological approaches, as well as help develop the Seismic Cities concept, we will target a large city that has recently experience major earthquakes-Santiago in Chile. We will conduct interviews & focus groups with communities in the city to explore their own perceptions of risk & coping strategies. We will also document these experiences through story-telling & sensory mapping of the built environment, & create a virtual archive of these to which the community can add. Through co-production methods such as focus groups, walking trails, mobile interviewing, live projections & tours of both historic & contemporary urban sites, valuable data on the effects of earthquakes & their potential danger will be gathered. We will use satellite imagery to construct a 3D model of the built environment & highlight active fault structures within the city, integrating this with the community resources to better communicate the findings derived from the scientific data. The strategies to best prepare & protect the community can be embedded as community members become responsible for mapping & curating their own lived environments.

The long-term (20-year) aim is to raise resilience to earthquake hazard across the whole world to the standards of the US, New Zealand & Japan. This is particularly challenging for many ODA-Recipient countries, where awareness of the threat from earthquakes may be low, & where increasing resilience to earthquake hazard may be a low priority. We envisage Seismic Cities as a flagship, high-profile event that significantly raises awareness in the host city, among both professionals & the public, drawing focus & resources to that city.

Planned Impact

The long-term goal of this project is to increase resilience to seismic hazard in major cities at risk of earthquakes by developing a blueprint for biennial Seismic Cities events. The beneficiaries of these events will be members of the public and the civil defence communities in the cities at risk of earthquakes, particularly in those cities that host the events.

In the short-term, however, most of the immediate beneficiaries will be in Santiago, Chile, where we will carry out much of the scoping work for this project. The group that will benefit first from this proposal are the individuals in communities living around the San Ramon Fault in Santiago, Chile. They will benefit directly from an increased awareness of a local earthquake hazard from the nearby fault at the edge of the city (only recently recognised as active), which could lead to earthquakes that are different to the distant subduction zone earthquakes that the residents are more aware of. This will improve the level of preparedness and resilience for such an unexpected type of earthquake. The benefit would be realised in the event of such an earthquake occurring, in terms of reduced number of fatalities and serious injuries, and improved recovery and coping strategies to deal with disaster.

In the short-term of the project duration itself, 9 months, the primary beneficiaries will be those with which we engage directly. Chile has a large level of inequality income and we will target those communities at the intersection of groups experiencing economic deprivation, and those living where we expect the greatest level of ground shaking due to seismic wave amplification in the Santiago Basin.

To widen the impact of this project, we have engaged with the Resilience Department of the local government in Santiago, in particular the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO-Gabriella Elguete) and sub-CRO (Christian Robertson) who we will be working with us on this proposal (see letter from the Governor of Santiago). The Resilience Department will benefit from the outputs of this project in terms of information on the awareness of communities to seismic hazards and their existing plans, as well as provision of a high resolution open access topographic dataset which will be of use in civic planning. By providing information on the level of awareness and coping strategies of vulnerable communities, we will enable the department to better inform policy regarding current and future housing planning, as well as emergency planners for such events.

Following the project, the medium-term (few years) beneficiaries would expand to become city-wide across Santiago as the short-term benefits are propagated through the Resilience Department of the local government. Over the next decade in Santiago, beneficiaries will include those whose houses were seismically reinforced and adequately insured as part of improved development planning, as well as those who planned houses were move away from being built on top of the fault during the continued urban expansion to the east of the city onto the San Ramon Fault.

With the development of the Seismic Cities concept we will then extend this approach to another city on the DAC list (potential Seismic Cities are listed in the ODA compliance section). In ten years, we expect beneficiaries of the Seismic Cities projects to extend to five other cities spread across the DAC list of countries. Citizens in each city will benefit from a targeted focus of research interest and public engagement, as well as learning from the experiences of other cities in building resilience and more sustainable communities.


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Bernales M (2019) Experiences and perceptions of natural hazards among international migrants living in Valparaiso, Chile in International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction

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Hussain E (2019) Contrasting seismic risk for Santiago, Chile, from near-field and distant earthquake sources in Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences Discussions

Title Earth Became Sea 
Description 'Earth Became Sea' is an artist's film by Emma Critchley, which takes as it's starting point a lecture by Alejandro Crispiani for Harvard University titled 'The moment of destruction: an approach to the spatial understanding of the city in ruins'. The film focuses on the recently discovered San Ramon Fault, which runs through the east of Santiago. As the camera moves through the city asking us to observe particular locations along the fault line, the film weaves philosophical discussion with thoughts and conversations noted by the artist during her visit to Santiago. Emma worked with John Elliott and Ekbal Hussain to identify where the fault line lay through the city and find locations that would be particularly significant if there were to be an earthquake, like the Nuclear Reactor and Embalse el Yeso. The film explores the city from multiple vantage points, reflecting on the complete spatial shifts that occur in the destroyed city, which demand that people engage with their environment in new ways and has huge social and psychological implications. The work considers the hidden nature of the San Ramon Fault, which still remains somewhat concealed from Santiago's citizens. It thinks about the layers of structure within the city, of both architecture and dissemination of knowledge. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The artist Emma Critchely met with a network of local Artists in Santiago as part of the development of the short film. Alejandro Crispiani Enriquez, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, University Catolica Montserrat Rojas Corradi, Independent Art Curator, Chile Pamela Prado, Independent Art Curator, Chile Sebastián Riffo, Virginia Guilisasti, Constanza Alarcon Tennen, German Tagle, Loreto Carmona (Artists, Chile) 
Title Nuclear Reactor 
Description 360 degree immersive environments (visual and audio) of Chile's first nuclear reactor (Center for Nuclear Studies La Reina) built in 1970 right on top of the fault (runs through edge of site 200m). Also of local hospital clinic escape routes and a local school evacuation plans. An example 'Yarn' created by the schoolchildren: 
Type Of Art Image 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact N/A 
Description BGS ODA Budget
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Geriatrics Society (BGS) 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2018
Description Challenge Grants 2017
Amount £99,969 (GBP)
Funding ID CHG\R1\170038 
Organisation The Royal Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 12/2018
Description Knowledge Frontiers 2017
Amount £49,220 (GBP)
Funding ID KF1\100065 
Organisation The British Academy 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2018
Description Newton Fund - Travel
Amount £2,000 (GBP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 02/2018
Description Alejandro Crispiani Enriquez 
Organisation Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
Country Chile 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Discussion between the independent artist Emma Critchley and with Alejandro Crispiani, Associate Professor at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile to use his lecture as part inspiration to the production of a short film 'Earth Became Sea'.
Collaborator Contribution Alejandro Crispiani provided information on his lecture for Harvard University titled 'The moment of destruction: an approach to the spatial understanding of the city in ruins'.
Impact The short film 'Earth Became Sea'
Start Year 2017
Description CIGIDEN - Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management 
Organisation National Research Center for the Integrated Management of Natural Disasters
PI Contribution Our research team provided the funding to support two of the research assistants associated with CIGIDEN as well as investigator time for one of the PIs. We were also able to highlight the risk presented by the fault that lies at the edge of the city of Santiago. Ou independent artists was also able to produce a short film which will be used by CIGIDEN in the future as part of public engagement activities.
Collaborator Contribution CIGIDEN through Dr Paula Repetto provided access to existing stakeholders used for formal interviews and focus groups for the project that had been part of previous research prior to this project. They also provided logistical support for field teams when they were in country in Santiago.
Impact This collaboration is multidisciplinary (Health Psychology, Digital Arts, Physical Science).
Start Year 2017
Description GEM - Global Earthquake Model Foundation 
Organisation Guangdong University of Foreign Studies
PI Contribution We provided postdoctoral staff time to the project to be able to run various earthquake scenarios with GEMS openquake software engine. We also provided information on the earthquake sources through fault mapping which are necessary input to the simulations.
Collaborator Contribution GEM provided training in their OpenQuake software engine to runt he earthquake scenarios for the city of Santiago by hosting the postdoctoral staff member at their headquarters in Italy for a week. GEM additionally provided exposure and vulnerability data sets for the buildings of Santiago. They also provided expertise advice in running the software.
Impact This has resulted in a successful number of earthquake scenarios being run that as resulted in an draft of an academic paper, and also the securing of future funding to do similar work in the future.
Start Year 2017
Description RMS - Risk Management Solutions 
Organisation Risk Management Solutions
PI Contribution We provided information on the earthquake sources through fault mapping which are necessary input to the model runs. This included location and size of potential earthquake sources.
Collaborator Contribution RMS provided time of key personal involved in risk calculations for the risk in Chile, as well as running their RMS Chile earthquake Model for a couple of earthquake scenarios.
Impact This contributed towards a draft of an academic paper on the risk.
Start Year 2017
Description Geologists for Global Development (GfGD) Annual Conference 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Presentation to the Geologists for Global Development (GfGD) Annual Conference 2017 in the session Resilience to Environmental Shocks in Cities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Studio Visits with Local Artists 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Pamela Prado, Independent Art Curator, Chile
Montserrat Rojas Corradi, Independent Art Curator, Chile
Sebastián Riffo, Artist, Chile
Virginia Guilisasti, Artist, Chile
Constanza Alarcon Tennen, Artist, Chile
German Tagle, Artist, Chile
Loreto Carmona, Artist, Chile
Individual meetings in local artists studies to discuss their views on seismic hazard and how they does and does not inform or influence their work in terms of art form.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017