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The University of Alicante publishes the first study on seismic risk for major cities in Haiti

The study, published on 12 September 2015, examines the potential impact of a possible earthquake, the weaknesses that still exist in the country and advice to reduce the risk.


Researchers note that cities are still not ready, after $15,000 million spent on the country reconstruction


Alicante, 17 September 2015

An earthquake happened today in central Chile, with a magnitude of 8.4 degrees on the Richter scale and three minutes duration, which has caused eight deaths only is a proof of a country prepared for potential natural disasters. To this is now added the tsunami alert declared by Chilean Navy Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOA).

The University of Alicante, through members of his research group “Seismology, seismic risk and signal processing in natural phenomena”, in cooperation with several Spanish universities and institutions in Haití, has finished and published the first study on seismic risk for major cities in Haití (Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien)

A first approach to earthquake damage estimation in Haiti: advices to minimize the seismic risk” is the title of the research work published on 12 September, 2015 in the Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, official publication of the European Association for Earthquake Engineering (European Association for Earthquake Engineering). The study examines the potential impact of a possible earthquake, the weaknesses that still exist in the country and advice to reduce seismic risk. The findings suggest that 30,000 homes would be uninhabitable (by collapsing or having extensive damage) in Port au Prince and and around 14,000 in Cap Haitien, being at least $2,100 million needed to rebuild the first city and $700 million to rebuild the second.

The risk estimates for the study were done with free software, called Selena, that was developed thanks to a project of emerging groups granted several years ago by the UA which was later complemented with a project funded by the Valencian government, as well as through cooperation agreements with NORSAR research centre in Norway. The UA participated in the development of software, as noted by Sergio Molina Palacios, member of this group of study on seismic risk.


How everything started

The origin of this study dates back from 2006, when two members of the research group above mentioned, Juan José Galiana Merino and Encarnacion Gimeno Nieves, led by Sergio Molina Palacios, carried out a project on the design of methodologies and tools for estimating site effects and their application in evaluating scenarios of damage due to earthquakes. It was an aid project for emerging groups, where a tool was developed to enable the analysis of this latest study for Haiti.

Then in 2007 and 2008, the Valencian government granted an  R&D project on the estimation and uncertainties of earthquake damage and losses for urban environments in the region of Valencia and integrated real-time system evaluations, under the supervision of Sergio Molina along with six researchers. The purpose of this work was to develop this pilot experience and try a sample application.

Researchers continue to work and in 2010, coinciding with the earthquake in Haiti, published an open source software for the entire scientific community. It is at this point that contact with the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), the University of Almería (UAL) and the National Observatory for the Environment and Vulnerability in Haiti. They have started to work jointly through several projects financed by the UCM. The final conclusions of the work are those gathered in the above mentioned article in the Official Publication of the European Association for Earthquake Engineering.


Future scenario of Haiti

Sergio Molina concluded that <<with everything we've learned these years being there, the country is still unprepared>>. During the study, researchers performed simulations of two potential earthquakes that <<are going to happen in the country; simulations for the cities of Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien. In the first, the results state that 30,000 homes would be uninhabitable; in the second, around 14,000 homes>>. Molina reports that in both cases, these figures represent half the population.

In economic terms, experts estimate that the cost needed before a next potential earthquake would be at least $2,100 million in Port au Prince and $700 million in Cap Haitien.

In order to avoid the impact reflected above, researchers insist on implementing a seismic network in the country and define a yet non-existing seismic code or regulations on seismic risk for Haiti, reinforce existing homes and develop an emergency plan.

This work reports that they have already spent 15 billion dollars so far to rebuild the country, and after five years researchers on seismic risk have note that these cities are still not well prepared. Also, <<there is a great reluctance of local institutions to collaborate with scientific groups and implement the results they are retrieving>> Molina states.


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