GEM TOPIQS Newsletter Issue No.22 Jan-Feb 2021  View this email in your browser

Dear GEM Partners and Friends,

Welcome to the March GEM Topiqs newsletter. I hope all of you got through the northern winter or southern summer season free from the coronavirus. In spite of the steady spread of different COVID variants, GEM is one with the world in hoping that the vaccination programs launched a month ago or so will begin to show results toward making our communities safe again. 
Our Top Story in this issue is the commemoration of GEM’s 12-year anniversary with an article taking stock of how far GEM has come in its 12 years and what is in store for the future. The InFocus section features USGS joining the TREQ project for urban earthquake scenarios to undertake research that aims to deliver a suite of impact estimation products for TREQ earthquake scenarios.
This issue also includes summaries of presentations made by GEM Secretariat staff in various international virtual conferences and events on loss models, earthquake risk assessment, and global challenges in earthquake risk and catastrophe modelling.
GEM was also featured in AGU-EOS March 2021 newsletter - Building Equity into Hazard Research: Where Do People Fit into a Global Hazard Model? – written by Richard J. Sima with interviews and insights from Marco Pagani and Vitor Silva. A must read.
The OpenQuake development team has released v3.11 ‘Wegener’ including its complementary tool Integrated Risk Modelling Toolkit (IRMTK) QGIS plugin. If you haven’t downloaded this version, check out the OQ update section.
Lastly, we’ve rounded up some interesting topics in the Around the Internet section that will be of interest. To commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Japan and New Zealand earthquakes in 2011, we’ve highlighted articles on the lessons learned from two of the deadliest earthquakes during the past decade.
We value your opinion so please send us your suggestions and feedback to help us improve our next issues.
Wishing good health to all,

John Schneider
Secretary General
GEM Foundation, Pavia, Italy

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GEM 12-year anniversary:
Bridging science and risk reduction

Full article
“A dozen years is another milestone for GEM, and particularly poignant after over one year of the coronavirus pandemic. We much appreciate the continued support of our sponsors, collaborators and project partners, and the dedication and commitment of our staff to get us to where we are today, and ready to deliver our mandate in the next 12 years.” GEM Secretary General John Schneider on commemorating GEM’s 12-year anniversary. | Read More >>

12-year anniversary infographics and media cards
(click to view full image)
Quotes from current and past GEM leaders
GEM Updates
Canada’s new earthquake science: Learning from loss models

The Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR) recently organized a webinar and invited leaders from the loss modeling community to present and discuss their views about seismic risk in Canada... | Read more >>
Earthquake Risk Assessment: Current Challenges & Future Trends

In this webinar organized by UCL EPICentre, London, GEM’s Vitor Silva discussed the current challenges in existing risk models, as well as how big data and machine learning can be incorporated in the risk... | Read more >>
Earthquake Risk - a Global Challenge


More than 400 online participants joined InsTech’s Earthquake Risk - a Global Challenge webinar on March 4. Facilitated by Matthew Grant, the speakers explored how insurance losses from earthquakes are measured and... | Read more >>
1st CroCEE: Earthquakes in the Global COVID19 Pandemic

Hundreds of online participants joined the first Croatian Conference on Earthquake Engineering held from March 22-24, 2021. Organized by the University of Zagreb Faculty of Civil Engineering, the objective of the conference was... | Read more >>
In Focus
TREQ Project
USGS has joined the TREQ initiative for urban earthquake scenarios

The USGS has recently joined the GEM TREQ project: Training and Communication for Earthquake Risk Assessment to undertake research that aims to deliver a suite of USGS’s National Earthquake Information Center’s (NEIC) real-time shaking, impact, and aftershock forecast products for the TREQ earthquake scenarios.

Full article
OpenQuake Updates
OpenQuake update V3.11 Wegener

The OpenQuake Engine version 3.11 is now available! This is a major release featuring memory-efficient calculators for classical PSHA and probability of exceedance; a unified and optimized scenario and event-based risk calculators as well as scenario and event-based damage calculators; a new syntax to perform sensitivity analysis; an engine functionality that automatically downloads and runs calculations from URLs containing a .zip archive; plus other new features and improvements!

The OQ engine version 3.11 is also released with a compatible IRMT QGIS plugin available at

This version is code named ‘Wegener’, in memory of Alfred Lothar Wegener, a German polar researcher, geophysicist and meteorologist in the early 1900s most remembered today as the originator of continental drift hypothesis, the first conceptual model for plate tectonics.

For more details on the new features, visit

Download version 3.11.3 at
GEM in the News!
Where Do People Fit into a Global Hazard Model?
Recently Richard J. Sima interviewed GEM’s Marco Pagani and Vitor Silva to discuss ‘Where Do People Fit into a Global Hazard Model?’ Find out below how GEM is incorporating human systems in earthquake hazard and risk modelling in this AGU EOS feature article. (click image above to view the infographics)
Better earthquake modelling for (re)insurance decision-making
Find out how WTW uses GEM exposure and vulnerability datasets to enhance loss assessment and probabilistic models for novel and rapid loss estimation. Pages 56–58 of Willis Research Network Annual Review 2021 brochure describes how they work with GEM data and models for better earthquake modelling for reinsurance decision-making. (click image above to view the infographics)
Risk and resilience during the pandemic
John Schneider GEM Secretary General was recently interviewed by the web magazine Startup.Info on how the COVID19 pandemic has changed our lives and GEM’s approach to work to address the crisis. Learn more about his perspectives on family, life, GEM beginnings and future plans. Above: (L) John Schneider with John Rees, BGS and Tom De Groeve, EC during a pre-pandemic train ride to Switzerland.
Featured Event
March - June 2021 Events

AIR Virtual Conference
13-15 April

METIS Project meeting
15-16 April

Seismological Society of America Conference
Cryptic Faults: Assessing Seismic Hazard on Slow Slipping, Blind or Distributed Fault Systems

19-23 April

GEM Governing Board Meeting
17-18 June

TREQ OpenQuake Online Training
June (dates TBD)
Around the Internet
Lessons from Japan and New Zealand 2011 Earthquakes
The Fukushima quake may be an echo of the 2011 disaster - and a warning for the future
A 7.1 magnitude earthquake was recorded off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan in early February. It came almost 10 years after the nearby Tohoku quake of March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that caused a catastrophic tsunami and resulted in thousands of deaths and a nuclear reactor meltdown.
In the hours after Saturday’s quake, there were several aftershocks up to magnitude 5, and officials warned there could be more to come. The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake itself was an aftershock of the 2011 event. That might seem odd, but aftershocks of a major earthquake can persist for years and even decades.

Editor’s take: Japan’s disaster lessons aren’t just about expensive hardware
Policy Editor, Jessica Alexander reflects on the earthquake that devastated eastern Japan in 2011. “Ten years after the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE), I have come to understand that the success of the country's risk approach has as much to do with community readiness and human connection as it does with visible feats of structural engineering. Its approach to risk was not just technological, but philosophical, embedded into people’s everyday lives.”
Over the past decade, the island nation has weathered about 20% of the world’s “strong” earthquakes (magnitude 6 or greater) as well as multiple tropical storms a year. The worst of these events can be utterly devastating: The 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which triggered a massive tsunami and a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, killed more than 15,000 people.

Architects and engineers are pushing the boundaries of technology and design to reduce damage. Factors that set the country’s disaster-proofing industry apart include its kenchikushi - licensed architect-engineers who can be held liable for building defects for a period of 10 years - and its legislative framework.

Better quake engineering will save lives
Christchurch, New Zealand is a safer city now, thanks to better design and earthquake engineering built into many of the buildings that replaced the ruins of the city centre. A decade of scientific research, much of it undertaken in the Garden City itself, has informed new methods of making buildings more resilient to earthquakes.

Liquefaction: Lessons from the 2011 Christchurch earthquake
On February 22, 2011, Christchurch experienced a severe earthquake resulting in much loss of lives, destruction … and liquefaction. Misko Cubrinovski, a University of Canterbury geotechnical earthquake engineer, has spent his professional career studying liquefaction caused by earthquakes, but even he was surprised by how widespread and extensive the effects of liquefaction were following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.
Christchurch, February 22, 2011 earthquake anniversary: GNS scientists reflect on seismic event
GNS Science seismologist Anna Kaiser reflects on what became known as the 2010 and 2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence, that resulted in huge changes around earthquake research in New Zealand. Prior to the Darfield earthquake, only a handful of earthquakes were recorded in Canterbury each year. But the following quakes, and thousands of aftershocks, changed views about vulnerabilities to earthquakes in low seismicity regions. For science too, and allied fields including engineering and civil defense, GNS says the Canterbury earthquake sequence sparked many changes that have become woven into everyday life.
Earthquake Hazard and Risk
Simulating 800,000 years of California earthquake history to pinpoint risks
A new study presents a prototype Rate-State earthquake simulator that simulates hundreds of thousands of years of seismic history in California. Coupled with another code, the framework can calculate the amount of shaking that would occur for each quake. The new approach improves the ability to pinpoint how big an earthquake might occur in a given location, allowing building code developers and structural engineers to design more resilient buildings that can survive earthquakes.

Discerning Structure and Seismic Hazards in the Sikkim Himalayas
Sandwiched between Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet, the Sikkim Himalayas in northeastern India are one of the most seismically hazardous regions on Earth. A dense seismic network in operation since 2019 will provide new insights into the tectonics of seismically active Himalayan regions. The network consisting of 27 broadband seismic stations in Sikkim, was installed by a research team from the Department of Geology and Geophysics, Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. These stations will continuously run for at least 3 years, helping address the vital need for more seismic observations in this region.
Lockdown allowed scientists to study Earthquakes in a way never possible before
Earth had its quietest period in decades during 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic significantly reduced human activity and its impact on the planet’s crust, according to scientists working on a global study. An international group of seismologists from 33 countries measured a drop of up to 50% in so-called ambient noise generated by humans travelling and factories humming after lockdowns came into force around the world.
New Seismic Hazard Map Shows Earthquake Risks for Slovenia
The national Seismology Office has presented a new seismic hazard map for Slovenia, taking into account the latest seismic and geo-tectonic data. The upgraded danger levels and risk assessment are based on the new findings of the past two decades. Based on the new earthquake risk assessment, engineers will establish whether national building codes in line with the Eurocode 8 seismic hazard zoning standards need to be changed. The new map shows peak ground acceleration as well as spectral acceleration to include all possible building frequencies.
Earthquake Insurance
Multi-risk model approach can build stronger catastrophe insurance industry
A research study from Oxford University has found that adopting at least four views of risk can make a significant difference to catastrophe insurance underwriting performance, which presumably also applies in the reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) worlds. The study found that widespread use of four risk models, rather than one, would “build a much stronger catastrophe insurance industry.”
Earthquake risk in Canada almost doubles in 40 years
Natural Resources Canada has just released the new 2020 National Seismic Hazard Model for Canada, which indicates significantly higher levels of ground shaking hazard in several major urban areas relative to the 2015 hazard map.

“What we know from looking at our exposure models is that our exposure to earthquake hazards and risk in Canada has almost doubled over the last 40 years, and that’s largely because we have increasingly dense urban settlements in areas exposed to these hazards,” said Murray Journeay, research scientist at Natural Resources Canada.
Why it matters that British Columbians buy earthquake insurance; Washingtonians don’t
Even though Canadians and Americans living in the region share virtually the same risk from a major quake, the 49th parallel that demarcates the boundary between Canada and the United States also marks another line - more than 60 percent of homeowners in the lower mainland of British Columbia purchase earthquake insurance protection for their homes and belongings, while less than 14 percent of those in western Washington State do the same.

This is problematic because, essentially, the bigger the gap, the greater the disaster-related costs that are borne out-of-pocket by society. According to research, when more people buy insurance, society tends to be more resilient, prompting it to bounce back faster after a catastrophic loss than in places where fewer people buy purchase coverage.
Quake insurance protection gap pegged at $25 billion
Swiss Reinsurance Co. Ltd. has estimated Japan’s insurance protection gap for earthquake risk at $25 billion, Reinsurance News reported. Although insurance penetration for seismic risks has increased in Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, underinsurance of earthquake risk still makes for the most of natural catastrophe protection gap in Japan, with a majority of companies still lacking coverage.
How to increase the take-up of earthquake insurance
Possible reasons for low take-up rates of earthquake insurance are explored in a recent paper authored by Glenn McGillivray, managing director of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (Ontario), and Mary Kelly, a professor of finance and chair of insurance at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. Their paper, The Earthquake Insurance Protection Gap: A Tale of Two Countries, is published in the Journal of Insurance Regulation. They wrote the paper along with Steve Bowen, head of catastrophic insight at Aon.

The paper starts with the observation that take-up rates for earthquake insurance are significantly higher in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia than in neighboring Washington, State, even though exposure to earthquake risk in the two areas is largely the same.

More than 60% of homeowners in B.C.’s Lower Mainland purchase earthquake insurance protection for their homes and belongings, but fewer than 14% in Washington State do the same.
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