Tag Archives: disaster risk reduction

The Disappearing Tokyo Risk Audit

Without the ability to measure, how do we know if we are making progress?

In December 2012, in preparation for the renewal of the UN Millennium Development Goals, I wrote a report for the U.K. Government Department for International Development (DFID) advocating that catastrophe models should be used to measure progress in disaster risk reduction. I suggested goals could be set to target a 50 percent reduction in expected casualties and a 20 percent reduction in normalized economic losses, over the period of a decade, based on the output of a catastrophe model.

Two years later, the seven targets agreed at the UN meeting on Disaster Risk Reduction, held on March 14–18, 2015, in Sendai, Japan – were a disappointment. The first two targets for “Disaster Mortality” and “Affected People” would simply compare data from 2020-2030 with 2005-2015. The third target was to “reduce direct disaster economic loss in relation to global GDP by 2030”. Yet we know, especially for casualties – even at a global level, a decade is not enough to define a stable mean. For cities and countries, comparing two decades of data will generate spurious conclusions.

And so, it was a relief to see that only two weeks later, the Japanese and Tokyo city governments announced they had set themselves the challenge of halving earthquake casualties over a decade, measured by modeling a hypothetical event based on the M7 1855 Edo earthquake under Tokyo. I referenced this announcement and quoted it widely in presentations, to highlight that risk modeling had been embraced by the country with the most advanced policies for disaster risk reduction.

Over the last two years, I started searching for some update on this initiative. What kind of progress in risk reduction was being achieved, whether the targets for Tokyo would be met? And I found my original links had all stopped connecting. Perhaps in my enthusiasm I had dreamt it?

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Exposure Trending

A postcard from Manila…

Situation: rapid, uncontrolled urbanization and limited enforcement of building codes.

Complication: unwieldy administrative procedures, limited funding, a lack of technical expertise and #NIMTOO.

Result: an alarming rise of building vulnerability in hazard-prone communities putting millions of low-income people at extreme risk.

While many local government officials recognize this problem, progress is painfully slow. Housing vulnerability continues to rise. What to do?

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Meet the RMS Impact Trekkers

In our previous blog, we introduced the RMS clients who will be joining this year’s RMS Impact Trek, heading off to the Philippines on March 17 to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change. Now it’s time to meet some of the RMS employees who they will work together with on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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Meet the Trekkers

This year’s RMS Impact Trek, to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change, heads off to the Philippines on March 17. A team of RMS employees and RMS clients will work together on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to apply this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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From Farmer to Finance Minister

When I was still a teenager – summer brave, full of sport, hot and bold – I hitchhiked from Lithuania to Armenia and back again. Outbound via the former Soviet Union and the Caucasus; home via Turkey and the Balkans.

Time rich and cash poor, I took risks I wouldn’t today. All the same, my gambles paid off and I look back on that adventure fondly.

The journey was filled with comparisons and contrasts. Some things, like being invited in basic Russian to squeeze into a crammed Lada Riva, remained almost constant from country to country. Others, like the landscapes and local delicacies, evolved with every new ride.

When I found myself back in Istanbul last month for the first time since my hitchhiking days, I was again struck by these contrasts. Here I was, a guest of the United Nations, discussing disaster risk reduction financing with the finance ministers of those countries through which I’d once hitchhiked. And here I was, marveling afresh at the cultural, political, economic and geographical diversity of a vast region which yet shares so much.

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How to Accelerate the Understanding of Disaster Risk

RMS is delighted in playing an integral role at the United Nations’ Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun next week.  This is the first time that government stakeholders from all 193 member countries have come together on this subject since the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted in March 2015.  Cancun looks forward to welcoming some 5,000 participants.

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EXPOSURE Magazine Snapshots: Water Security – Managing the Next Financial Shock

This is a taster of an article published by RMS in the second edition of EXPOSURE magazine.  Click here and download your full copy now.

18 Apr 2017 Exposure Drought image

 

EXPOSURE magazine reported on how a pilot project to stress test banks’ exposure to drought could hold the key to future economic resilience, as recognition grows that environmental stress testing is a crucial instrument to ensure a sustainable financial system.

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Closing the Resilience Gap: A Tale of Two Countries, Nepal and Chile

Nepal house smallOn April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck nearly 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.  This resulted in more than 8,600 fatalities, the destruction of around half a million homes, and left 2.8 million people displaced.

Some two years on and rebuilding efforts have barely started, as US$4.1 billion of pledged international aid is reportedly stalled within Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority.

As of February 2017, 14,000 homes have been rebuilt and some 30,000 homes are in construction – less than a tenth of the total number of homes destroyed.

Contrast this with the situation in Chile. Since a magnitude 9.4 earthquake in 1960, the country has focused on adequate seismic design requirements within its building code, with both government and the public willing to follow the principles of earthquake-resistant building design. And it’s paying off.

After a magnitude 8.8 quake in 2010, structures in areas that experienced strong shaking had less damage than would have been seen if building codes were weaker. Of 370,000 housing units affected by the earthquake, nearly half experienced only minor damage, and just 22 percent were destroyed.  Where commercial buildings were designed with the help of structural engineers, only five were destroyed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

This wide inequity in resilience between two countries facing major seismic hazard brings into sharp focus the urgent need for better quantification, mitigation, and post-event protection for all people, regardless of their location.

Bridging the Divide

Communities around the world can become more resilient both before an event strikes, through practices such as construction education and the implementation of building codes, or post-event by providing insurance and other appropriate risk transfer solutions for individuals and governments. By empowering these stakeholders, our industry can play a vital role in helping to ensure a safer world for all.

Social enterprises such as Build Change, who work on the ground in countries like Nepal, Columbia, and Haiti, are helping to bridge some of this ‘resilience gap’ by working with local governments to institute building codes and train their construction sectors in locally attainable and safe building practices. Over the past 10 years, Build Change has trained over 25,000 people in the basics of safe construction, created over 12,000 local jobs, and enabled 245,000 people to live and learn in safer homes and schools within some of the most catastrophe-prone regions of the planet.

Nepal builder smallThis week, during the annual RMS Impact Trek, both our employees and our clients representing major insurance and reinsurance firms are working together on the ground in Nepal with Build Change, exploring solutions to bring greater synergy and resilience capacity-building to the forefront of our market. We are proud to partner with Build Change by also providing grants to jumpstart and enhance its country programs, and allowing the organization to use our products for free in order to better quantify the risk landscape of the countries in which they operate.

All of us within the insurance industry have an opportunity to reshape the future for communities around the globe by allowing them to better measure and understand their risk, so that responsible mitigation efforts can take shape. We can create tools to help ensure that those who are struck by catastrophe can recover quickly and completely.

At RMS, we remain focused on contributing to this mission by strengthening resilience from the ground up, and continuing our work alongside impactful organizations like Build Change.

Friday 13th and the Long-Term Cost of False Alarms

If the prospect of flooding along the East Coast of England earlier this month was hard to forecast, the newspaper headlines the next day were predictable enough:

Floods? What floods? Families’ fury at evacuation order over storm surge … that never happened (Daily Mail)

East coast residents have derided the severe storm warnings as a ‘load of rubbish’ (The Guardian)

Villagers shrug off storm danger (The Times)

The police had attempted an evacuation of some communities and the army was on standby. This was because of warnings of a ‘catastrophic’ North Sea storm surge on January 13 for which the UK Environment Agency applied the highest level flood warnings along parts of the East Coast: ‘severe’ which represents a danger to life. And yet the flooding did not materialize.

Environment Agency flood warnings: January 13 2017

Water levels were 1.2m lower along the Lincolnshire coast than those experienced in the last big storm surge flood in December 2013, and 0.9m lower around the Norfolk towns of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Predicting the future in such complex situations, even very near-term, always has the potential to make fools of the experts. But there’s a pressure on public agencies, knowing the political fallout of missing a catastrophe, to adopt the precautionary principle and take action. Imagine the set of headlines, and ministerial responses, if there had been no warnings followed by loss of life.

Interestingly, most of those who had been told to evacuate as this storm approached chose to stay in their homes. One police force in Essex, knocked on 2,000 doors yet only 140 of those people registered at an evacuation centre. Why did the others ignore the warnings and stay put? Media reports suggest that many felt this was another false alarm.

The precautionary principal might seem prudent, but a false alarm forecast can encourage people to ignore future warnings. Recent years offer numerous examples of the consequences.

The Lessons of History

Following a 2006 Mw8.3 earthquake offshore from the Kurile Islands, tsunami evacuation warnings were issued all along the Pacific coast of northern Japan, where the tsunami that did arrive was harmless. For many people that experience weakened the imperative to evacuate after feeling the three-minute shaking of the March 2011 Mw9 earthquake, following which 20,000 people were drowned by the tsunami. Based on the fear of what happened in 2004 and 2011, today tsunami warnings are being ‘over-issued’ in many countries around the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

For the inhabitants of New Orleans, the evacuation order issued in advance of Hurricane Ivan in December 2004 (when one third of the city’s population moved out, while the storm veered away), left many sceptical about the mandatory evacuation issued in advance of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 (after which around 1500 drowned).

Agencies whose job it is to forecast disaster know only too well what happens if they don’t issue a warning as any risk looms. However, the long-term consequences from false alarms are perhaps not made explicit enough. While risk models to calculate the consequence are not yet available, a simple hypothetical calculation illustrates the basic principles of how such a model might work:

  • the chance of a dangerous storm surge in the next 20 years is 10 percent, for a given community;
  • if this happens, then let’s say 5,000 people would be at grave risk;
  • because of a recent ‘false’ alarm, one percent of those residents will ignore evacuation orders;
  • thus the potential loss of life attributed to the false alarm is five people.

Now repeat with real data.

Forecasting agencies need a false alarm forecast risk model to be able to help balance their decisions about when to issue severe warnings. There is an understandable instinct to be over cautious in the short-term, but when measured in terms of future lives lost, disaster warnings need to be carefully rationed. And that rationing requires political support, as well as public education.

[Note: RMS models storm surge in the U.K. where the risk is highest along England’s East Coast – the area affected by flood warnings on January 13. Surge risk is complex, and the RMS Europe Windstorm Model™ calculates surge losses caused by extra-tropical cyclones considering factors such as tidal state, coastal defenses, and saltwater contamination.]

Earthquake Hazard: What Has New Zealand’s Kaikoura Earthquake Taught Us So Far?

The northeastern end of the South Island is a tectonically complex region with the plate motion primarily accommodated through a series of crustal faults. On November 14, as the Kaikoura earthquake shaking began, multiple faults ruptured at the same time culminating in a Mw 7.8 event (as reported by GNS Science).

The last two weeks have been busy for earthquake modelers. The paradox of our trade is that while we exist to help avoid the damage this natural phenomenon causes, the only way we can fully understand this hazard is to see it in action so that we can refine our understanding and check that our science provides the best view of risk. Since November 14 we have been looking at what Kaikoura tells us about our latest, high-definition New Zealand Earthquake model, which was designed to handle such complex events.

Multiple-Segment Ruptures

With the Kaikoura earthquake’s epicenter at the southern end of the faults identified, the rupture process moved from south to north along this series of interlinked faults (see graphic below). Multi-fault rupture is not unique to this event as the same process occurred during the 2010 Mw 7.2 Darfield Earthquake. Such ruptures are important to consider in risk modeling as they produce events of larger magnitude, and therefore affect a larger area, than individual faults would on their own.

Map showing the faults identified by GNS Sciences as experiencing surface fault rupture in the Kaikoura Earthquake.
Source: http://info.geonet.org.nz/display/quake/2016/11/16/Ruptured +land%3A+observations+from+the+air

In keeping with the latest scientific thinking, the New Zealand Earthquake HD Model provides an expanded suite of events that represent complex ruptures along multiple faults. For now, these are included only for areas of high slip fault segments in regions with exposure concentrations, but their addition increases the robustness of the tail of the Exceedance Probability curve, meaning clients get a better view of the risk of the most damaging, but lower probability events.

Landsliding and Liquefaction

While most property damage has been caused directly by shaking, infrastructure has been heavily impacted by landsliding and, to a lesser extent, liquefaction. Landslides and slumps have occurred across the region, most notably over Highway 1, an arterial route. The infrastructure impacts of the Kaikoura earthquake are a likely dress rehearsal for the expected event on the Alpine Fault. This major fault runs 600 km along the western coast of the South Island and is expected to produce an Mw 8+ event with a probability of 30% in the next 50 years, according to GNS Science.

As many as 80 – 100,000 landslides have been reported in the upper South Island, with some creating temporary dams over rivers and in some cases temporary lakes (see below). These dams can fail catastrophically, sending a sudden increase of water flow down the river.

 

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Examples of rivers blocked by landslides photographed by GNS Science researchers.

Source: http://info.geonet.org.nz/display/quake/2016/11/18/ Landslides+and+Landslide+dams+caused +by+the+Kaikoura+Earthquake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liquefaction occurred in discrete areas across the region impacted by the Kaikoura earthquake. The Port of Wellington experienced both lateral and vertical deformation likely due to liquefaction processes in reclaimed land. There have been reports of liquefaction near the upper South Island towns (Blenheim, Seddon, Ward), but liquefaction will not be a driver of loss in the Kaikoura event to the extent it was in the Christchurch earthquake sequence.

RMS’ New Zealand Earthquake HD Model includes a new liquefaction component that was derived using the immense amount of new borehole data collected after the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence in 2010-2011. This new methodology considers additional parameters, such as depth to the groundwater table and soil-strength characteristics, that lead to better estimates of lateral and vertical displacement. The HD model is the first probabilistic model with a landslide susceptibility component for New Zealand.

Tsunami

The Kaikoura Earthquake generated tsunami waves that were observed in Kaikoura at 2.5m, Christchurch at 1m, and Wellington at 0.5m. The tsunami waves arrived in Kaikoura significantly earlier than in Christchurch and Wellington indicating that the tsunami was generated near Kaikoura. The waves were likely generated by offshore faulting, but also may be associated with submarine landsliding. Fortunately, the scale of the tsunami waves did not produce significant damage. RMS’ latest New Zealand Earthquake HD Model captures tsunami risk due to local ocean bottom deformation caused by fault rupture, and is the first model in the New Zealand market to do this, that is built from a fully hydrodynamic model.

Next Generation Earthquake Modeling at RMS

Thankfully the Kaikoura earthquake seems to have produced damage that is lower than we might have seen had it hit a more heavily populated area of New Zealand with greater exposures – for detail on damage please see my other blog on this event.

But what Kaikoura has told us is that our latest HD model offers an advanced view of risk. Released only in September 2016, it was designed to handle such a complex event as the Kaikoura earthquake, featuring multiple-segment ruptures, a new liquefaction model at very high resolution, and the first landslide susceptibility model for New Zealand.