Geographic information system to assess and mitigate natural disasters

Southampton University has partnered with three of Egypt's top institutions in a project aiming to assess and mitigate natural disasters through geographic information system (GIS) mapping technology.


The project, ‘Seismic Resilience of Egypt's Built Environment: A GIS-Based Framework for Assessment and Mitigation’ (Egypt-SeReAM), has received £133.5K from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop the technology.

Researchers said that natural disasters can have dire effects on entire countries in the form of human casualties, infrastructure damage, and economic and environmental losses.

Earthquakes are the most damaging as they are responsible for an annual death toll of over 20,000 and 20 per cent of total annual economic losses due to natural disasters.

As such, researchers said there has been growing national interest in assessing regional seismic risk and loss for major cities.

Several countries have initiated Disaster Risk Management (DRM) programmes, which make use of the interdisciplinary advances in science and technology, to model the complex interaction of hazard, exposure, vulnerability, and compute loss metrics.

This data can be used by stakeholders and decision-makers to quantify potential structural, economic, and social consequences, and to identify critical infrastructure components, outline pre-disaster damage mitigation measures, and plan for post-disaster response protocols.

According to the researchers, Egypt is particularly susceptible to the impacts of natural hazards. It has several major cities with overly populated urban centres which are subject to high seismic risk triggered by risk drivers including poverty, climate change, decades of poor construction practices, and absence of municipal oversight.

However, researchers said that the safety and robustness of Egypt's infrastructure is greatly under-researched. Although several studies investigated the seismic hazard for Egypt's major cities, no attention has been paid to collapse risk assessment or loss and damage estimations.

Project lead Dr Ahmed Elkady, Southampton University, said: “The project strives to enhance Egypt's readiness for potential earthquake scenarios towards mitigating the risk of substantial losses in terms of human lives, infrastructure, and the economy, as witnessed in neighbouring countries recently.”

Egypt-SeReAM will further develop existing DRM methodologies to create a digital framework for assessing the seismic resilience of Egypt's built environment, with contributions from Alexandria University, Cairo University and the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics (NRIAG).

The project will use the city of Alexandria as a pilot case study to establish the building blocks of the DRM framework concerned with built-environment resilience by assessing the seismic vulnerability of its urban centre.

In the process, spatial urban, geotechnical, structural, and hazard data will be collected and an automated digital framework will be developed to quantify risk and loss under potential earthquake scenarios. The project will employ the GIS mapping system to describe and communicate earthquake consequences to the government, academia, industry, and public sector organisations. According to the team, this will be packaged within an easily-to-use practice-oriented digital workflow that will assist authorities in making effective decisions for seismic protection measures.

"The DRM framework is being adopted in many major cities worldwide to assess and alleviate the impacts of natural and man-made disasters, through the collective efforts of the academic, industry, government and public sectors," said Dr Elkady.