Earthquake data prepares vulnerable

UK engineers are heading to Sumatra in the wake of the recent earthquakes to investigate how new technology could be used to better prepare vulnerable communities for such events.


A team of UK engineers is heading to Sumatra in the wake of the recent earthquakes to investigate how new technology could be used to better prepare vulnerable communities for such events.



The earthquakes, which shook Padang in Sumatra in September, left a reported 1,100 people dead and severely damaged the infrastructure of the city.



The Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team, led by Sean Wilkinson from Newcastle University, will determine whether satellite photographs and remotely measured surface heights from NASA can be used for assessing the vulnerability of natural slopes to earthquake-induced landslides.



Wilkinson said his team will compare the NASA data with the data collected by his team on the ground.



If it matches up, he said, it will indicate that such data can be used to assess the vulnerability of slopes anywhere in the world.



Following its work in Sumatra, Wilkinson said his team plans to go to other regions where earthquakes have occurred to build up a database of slopes that failed. Some of the information collected will include local geology, vegetation, slope angle, distance from the fault and the amount of ground shaking.



‘Once we’ve got this database then we can have a look at earthquake-prone regions that haven’t had earthquakes and determine the vulnerable slopes,’ he said. ‘A lot of these events are so rare it is very difficult to determine what the risk is.’



The team also plans to look at how the landslides have affected infrastructure networks such as roads and power supplies and the way earthquake tremors affect building structures. Wilkinson said the team plans to give recommendations on the changes that could be made to reduce the devastation in the event of another earthquake.



The mission to Sumatra has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.



The engineering team is working with industrial partners including Imagecat, specialists in Geographic Information System (GIS) remote sensing technology for assessing building damage in disaster areas.


Siobhan Wagner