Building Bhutanese Resilience Against Cataclysmic Events (BRACE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Earth Sciences


BRACE is a transdisciplinary project that will forge new relationships among geoscientists, engineers, social scientists, historians, and policy makers to address seismic risk and develop resilience-building strategies. This will be achieved through collaborative research and outreach between UK and US researchers and academics and government officials in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, an ODA recipient country. This novel attempt to develop a multi-pronged approach will reduce earthquake disaster risk, and bring geological, geomorphological and seismological work into conversation with both historical records held in Bhutanese archives and with research into contemporary Bhutanese governance, disaster preparedness, and effective communication strategies for risk reduction. By merging new research in these fields with close consultation with in-country policymakers and engineers, our long-term aim is to develop a sustainable framework for improving Bhutanese resilience to earthquakes and their secondary effects.
We will combine expertise in tectonics, seismology, geomorphology, engineering, cultural history, environmental decision making (governance), development, and education to investigate the links between historical records of seismicity, seismic hazards, and the impact of earthquakes on environmental issues, infrastructure and populations. The aim will be to develop resilience and research capacity within Bhutan to cope with earthquakes and their cascading effects on environment, infrastructure, and society.
The underlying drivers of disaster risk are currently poorly understood. The Himalaya are highly seismically active (highlighted by the 2015 magnitude 7.8 Gorkha earthquake in Nepal), but Bhutan appears to represent a region of relative seismic quiescence. There is currently little understanding of seismic hazard in Bhutan, and therefore of the potential disruption to landscape and infrastructure, and the consequent impacts on access to food, water, energy, and impact for the health and wellbeing of society. In addition, the regional tectonics and poorly known fault network appear structurally complex and present challenges to assessing future earthquake potential. Bhutan is a rapidly developing country in which traditional modes of life and architecture are being challenged by moves to urban areas where population density has increased. Urban areas are rapidly expanding but building standards are not sufficient to withstand future seismic events, thus presenting a clear call to action.
Strengthening resilience to earthquakes and their secondary effects presents transdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder challenges. The interaction between social systems and physical processes results in layers of complexity, which challenge businesses, governments and policy makers, particularly at times of rapid change or shock after a natural disaster. This project will bring a transdisciplinary perspective in which the knowledge of geoscientists, engineers, historians, social scientists, policy makers and practitioners, as well as local knowledge and lay views, are considered. Scientific research identifies pathways and opportunities available to society in times of shock, and combined with a social science perspective can identify the pathways to resilience and rebuilding.
Historical archives provide rich data on past seismic events that can help to build an understanding of seismic hazard. However, little work has been done to investigate the potential of Bhutanese historical records to collect and constrain information about past earthquakes. Such data are critical to our understanding of today's seismic hazard as well as the structural makeup of the tectonic plate boundary in the eastern Himalaya. We will assess the availability of documentary data on past earthquakes using selected archives to develop a catalogue of historical seismic activity and vulnerability, as well as indigenous response and coping mechanisms.

Planned Impact

The central objective of BRACE is to develop methodologies that combine academic research with practitioners working in engineering or disaster response, and policy makers in order to have an impact on resilience strategies. This foundation stage will provide direct impacts for Bhutan and set up the potential for longer-term impacts such as working to improve construction practices.

The project will provide a new dataset for Bhutan and BRACE will help integrate these new findings with existing data to create improved hazard assessments and policies for long-term development and short-term emergency management.
- We will work with our partners in Bhutan to increase capacity and awareness for the assessment of seismic risk and secondary hazards.
- We will work with our partners to ensure our research is formulated in ways that meet the needs of all sectors.
- We will deliver research outputs and methods to provide effective and swift decision-making and communication directly after seismic events and secondary hazards. Output and decision-making protocols will be provided to local stakeholders through advice and broad mass communication tools.

BRACE has already developed and engaged a strong network of collaborators in Bhutan who will benefit directly from the proposed research:

The Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) is the branch of the Bhutanese Government that oversees the assessment of seismic hazards. Our work will help to increase the accuracy of their assessments.

The Royal University of Bhutan's Research Centre for Disaster Risk Reduction and Community Development Studies seeks to identify how to raise awareness of seismic risk amongst policy makers, construction companies and other businesses, and the general public. This work will feed into the development of building codes in accordance with this seismic risk, and to make contingency plans for secondary hazards in vulnerable locations.

The Centre for Archaeology and Historical Studies at the Royal University of Bhutan will work closely with us to establish how historical records can be important for managing hazards. BRACE will also demonstrate the importance of archival material to public policy and development more generally.

The Shejun Agency for Bhutan's Cultural Documentation and Research is a premier non-governmental organisation with over a decade of experience in documentation and study of Bhutan's ancient archives and oral historical memories, some of which contain records of earthquakes. The BRACE project will tie in closely with the Shejun Agency's current study of traditional social managements, community responses, and religious rituals during times of disasters such as an earthquake.

We will also engage with wider educational programmes and raise awareness for all citizens through partnership with the Royal Tutorial Project to provide filmed material for a minimum of four of 30-minute films to be broadcast on Bhutanese national television.

In addition to links with Bhutan organisations, BRACE will partner with the Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC), which developed the great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill in partnership with numerous organisations and governments to practice what to do during an earthquake and how to improve preparedness. SCEC will provide support for facilitating Bhutanese participation in the annual earthquake drill.

Finally, we will engage with the National Environment Commission (NEC), a branch of the Bhutan Government responsible for actions involving environmental policies.

Letters of support from all of our Project Partners plus the University of Bristol's Cabot Institute are included in this submission.
Description The BRACE project successfully strengthened the partnership and collaboration between UK academics and Bhutanese academics, government officials, NGO and private sector individuals engaged in earthquake and landslide disaster resilience. Through four workshops (two in Bhutan, two in the UK), BRACE team members co-produced urgent research questions regarding earthquake/landslide resiliency with input from a wide range of stakeholders. One achievement is a new method for integrating Bhutan's pre-existing geological structures in the rocks to better understand the rockfall hazards in road cuts. A second achievement is a preliminary assessment of the seismic hazard in Bhutan. A probabilistic seismic hazard model was developed for Bhutan, and the model's results are informing government decisions about Bhutan's national building code. A third achievement is the scoping of historical archives from traditional dzongs for information about natural disasters. These records are important for constraining seismic hazard. A fourth achievement is a database of interviews conducted with a range of stakeholders to understand the risk perceptions and decision-making processes around disaster resilience.
Exploitation Route Eventually, the photogrammetry method for assessing geological weak structures can inform rockfall hazard calculations at road cuts. Geotechnical engineering solutions can be found that are designed for specific geometries of pre-existing weak structures in the cliffs. The probabilistic seismic hazard model might eventually be used by others to refine hazard estimates, as well as risk and loss calculations, which may inform insurance and re-insurance capital allocation and premiums. The database of interviews can inform (N)GO procedures to improve resilience building and disaster risk resilience. The historical archival work may inform future hazard assessments.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy




Democracy and Justice



Museums and Collections


Description 1) Bhutan's government currently employs the Indian building code for earthquake-resilient constructions of new buildings. Based on criticisms of the Indian seismic hazard map, government engineers and seismologists are considering developing their own national seismic hazard map, with potential ramifications for their building code. Our team was asked to comment on whether the Indian seismic hazard map was appropriate for Bhutan. Our preliminary calculations show broad consistency with the Indian seismic hazard map, but much remains unknown about the seismic hazard in Bhutan. Bhutanese government structural engineers (Department of Engineering Services) and seismologists (Department of Geology and Mining) are using our team's output to inform their decision-making around developing a national seismic hazard map and building codes. 2) Bhutan's government road engineers have considered the implications of our team's work for the safety of roads from rockfalls. Specifically, our preliminary work shows a significant role of pre-existing geological weaknesses in steep cliffs of artificial road cuts that increase the chance of rockfalls. The Chief Engineer (Road Maintenance) of the Department of Road Services agreed that geological fractures/joints/weak planes may eventually inform decisions around building and maintaining roads.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Construction,Transport
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Helped establish a new UG programme in Geological and Geotechnical Engineering at Royal University of Bhutan
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact A new UG programme in Geological and Geotechnical Engineering was approved at the College of Science and Technology of the Royal University of Bhutan. BRACE team member Dr Raju Sarkar led the development of the proposed programme for the College's senior management. This new UG programme will strengthen Bhutan's capacity in dealing with geological hazards from an engineering and science perspective.
Description Informing decisions around a national seismic hazard map and Bhutan's building code
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Description Informing governmental disaster resilience strategies
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Contribution to a national consultation/review
Description Strategic Funds, Cabot Institute, University of Bristol
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Bristol 
Department Cabot Institute
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
Description Tackling global development challenges through engineering and digital technology research
Amount £1,567,408 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P028926/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
Title 3D photogrammetry for structural analysis of road cuts 
Description The method involves taking 100s of high resolution images from several locations to create a 3D point-cloud of a cliff face. This point cloud is then analysed for dominant orientations of existing weak planes that are apparent on the 3D surface of the cliff face. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The method allows the identification of 3D weak planes (cracks, veins, fractures, joints, faults) in a road cut. These can be used for an improved stability analysis (e.g. under ground shaking). 
Title 3D seismogenic source model for Bhutan 
Description We created a 3D representation of the major active faults in and around Bhutan that contribute substantially to the seismic hazard Bhutan is exposed to. This includes the implementation of two different geometries of the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT), the main plate boundary between Eurasia and India that controls the hazard in the region. We also characterised other major faults in the region. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The 3D model substantially affects the seismic hazard calculations, because earthquake ruptures are treated more realistically and are assigned to seismogenic fault sources. In particular, the calculated hazard in Bhutan is now much more strongly dependent on the distance to the main Himalayan thrust (the main plate boundary between Eurasia and India). This work also trained an undergraduate MSci student in seismic hazard assessment methods and applications. 
Title Historical records of natural disasters 
Description BRACE commissioned historical archive work from the Loden Foundation to identify information about natural disasters in historical texts. Written in classical Tibetan, scholars and trained monks scanned biographies of famous religious figures in Bhutan from 15th - 18th century. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This database is not yet complete, but may lead to new information about past disasters, including the potential identification of previously unknown disasters. This, in turn, may influence our understanding of seismic hazard in Bhutan. 
Title Semi-structured interviews database regarding decision making and risk perception of earthquakes 
Description BRACE conducted 20-30 interviews with a variety of stakeholders regarding their views of earthquake risks and their decision-making process for resilience strategies. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The interview database forms the basis of a draft report for the UN's mission in Bhutan. The UN (along with the Bhutanese government, the public and NGOs) is developing scenario-based disaster relief strategies, and BRACE's report may influence their understanding of this process. In addition, the database informed the two workshops BRACE held in Bhutan with a wide variety of stakeholders to develop and improve resilience strategies. 
Title probabilistic seismic hazard model for Bhutan 
Description BRACE assembled a probabilistic seismic hazard model for Bhutan, for which a national seismic hazard map can computed. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Preliminary calculations show that the hazard levels in Bhutan are roughly comparable with previous estimates from an Indian seismic hazard assessment. This has informed decision-making amongst Bhutanese government engineers around earthquake-resistant building codes. 
Description CST Royal University of Bhutan 
Organisation Royal University of Bhutan
Country Bhutan 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution BRACE provided the mandate and impetus for the Royal University of Bhutan to create a new undergraduate programme in the College for Science and Technology on "Geological and Geotechnical Engineering". This new programme provides the opportunity for Bhutan to train the next generation of geologists and geoengineers. While in Bhutan, members of the BRACE team gave two lectures to the CST student body on the topics of rock slide hazards and seismic hazards.
Collaborator Contribution The College for Science and Technology at the Royal University of Bhutan provided field support and assistance for our research on rock slides.
Impact As a direct result of Dr Raju Sarkar's involvement in BRACE, he co-authored a paper on landslides in Bhutan: Gariano et al., 2018, Automatic calculation of rainfall thresholds for landslide occurrence in Chukha Dzongkhag, Bhutan, Bulletin of Engineering Geology and the Environment, This collaboration brought together engineers at CST (primarily Dr Sarkar) with geologists and seismologists on the BRACE team in considering the implications of seismic hazard mapping on building construction in Bhutan.
Start Year 2017
Description DGM 
Organisation Government of Bhutan
Department Department of Geology and Mines
Country Bhutan 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution BRACE has provided the DGM with new primary seismic hazard and seismic rock slide hazard analyses.
Collaborator Contribution The Department of Geology of Mines (DGM) sponsored our visits to Bhutan, allowing us to operate under the umbrella of the government, drastically reducing costs and easing transportation permissions. DGM, and in particular its Chief Seismologist, Dr Dowchu Drukpa, has provided us with valuable, unpublished seismic, river gauge, and meteorological data, which has been used in our analyses. Our partners in the DGM made our two stakeholder workshops in Bhutan possible by providing official invitations to other government and private entities, and arranging for a venue.
Impact Dr Dowchu Drukpa is a co-author on two BRACE conference presentations given at the Geological Society's 2017 meeting on "Building Resilience to Geohazards in the Face of Uncertainty".
Start Year 2017
Description Loden Foundation 
Organisation Loden Foundation
Country Bhutan 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution BRACE provided the Loden Foundation with the resources to employ and train monks to translate ancient texts from ancient Tibetan to English and to search for any mention of possible earthquakes or ground shaking events.
Collaborator Contribution The Loden Foundation translated and analysed 9 histories and 30 biographies for evidence of historical earthquakes felt in Bhutan. This analysis led to the discovery of 21 new instances of possible seismic events, most of which are not known to have been recorded elsewhere. The Loden Foundation also provided access to religious leaders who have proven to be an untapped resource in terms of providing an understanding of the Bhutanese perception of seismic risk, but also, perhaps, a path forward to delivering the message of earthquake preparedness.
Impact The Loden Foundation translated and analysed 9 histories and 30 biographies for evidence of historical earthquakes felt in Bhutan, leading to the discovery of 21 new instances of possible seismic events, most of which are not known to have been recorded elsewhere. This effort brings together historians and geologists to unravel the seismic history and thus future seismic potential of Bhutan.
Start Year 2017
Description UTEP collaboration 
Organisation University of Texas, El Paso
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Frances Cooper, Byron Adams, and Max Werner are named collaborators on an NSF AccelNet proposal ,"HimLink: Linking networks to understand natural hazards in the Himalaya and their impacts" submitted by Dr Marianne Karplus at UTEP in January 2021. The proposal is currently under review. If successful, they will bring their geological and geophysical knowledge to the project, and a commitment to develop new teaching activities in the Himalaya. They also bring their wide network of academic partners, government departments, charities, national and international organisations, and private sector organisations. Frances Cooper and Byron Adams have also been working with Marianne Karplus, Jose Hurtado, and Aaron Velasco at UTEP on a joint NSF-NERC proposal that brings together geophysical, geomorphological, and tectonic analyses to examine deformation in the central latitudes of Bhutan. Frances and Byron are contributing their tectonic and geomorphic knowledge to this endeavour.
Collaborator Contribution Marianne Karplus, Jose Hurtado, and Aaron Velasco hosted Frances Cooper and Byron Adams on a visit to UTEP in 2018 to discuss writing follow up NSF and NSF-NERC proposals that followed on from BRACE. Both Frances and Byron were invited to give department seminars on their research as part of this visit. Marianne Karplus has since submitted an NSF AccelNet proposal that Frances, Byron, and Max Werner are named collaborators on.
Impact No outputs yet.
Start Year 2018
Description 2 Workshops in Thimphu (Bhutan) to connect earthquake disaster risk policy-makers, government officials, insurance professionals, engineers and seismologists 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact BRACE held two one-day workshops in Thimphu (April and Nov 2017) with about 30-40 participants with the goal of sharing information, identifying pressing issues, co-producing research questions, and building collaborations for future projects. The focus was on resilience building strategies to earthquakes and landslides in Bhutan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description 2nd Education film for public TV with Royal Bhutan Tutorial Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This second film with the Royal Tutorial Project was shot with Dr Dan Haines (History, U Bristol) and Dr Max Werner (Earth Sciences, U Bristol). The film focusses on the importance of historical records about earthquake disasters for estimating future earthquake hazards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Education film for public TV with Royal Bhutan Tutorial Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact BRACE was invited by the Royal Bhutan Tutorial Project to film two one-hour educational films about earthquake hazards in Bhutan. The films were filmed and broadcast on national public Bhutanese TV in 2017, estimated audience in the thousands. The first film, shot with PI Frances Cooper and PDRA Byron Adams, focussed on the geology of Bhutan and the building of the Himalaya, and geological hazards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Lectures at the Royal University of Bhutan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact PDRA Byron Adams and co-I Max Werner delivered two lectures to UG Civil Engineering students at the College of Science & Technology at the Royal University of Bhutan. The lectures intended to inform students about earthquake and landslide hazards, and raised the importance of engineering solutions to these hazards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017