What can we do about earthquakes?

Towards a systematic approach to seismic risk mitigation

  • David Alexander Global Risk Forum GRF Davos, Davos, Switzerland


This paper discusses the possible means of achieving risk reduction and resilience against earthquake disasters. It begins with an enquiry into the evolving nature of the resilience concept, which has at its root the notions of participatory governance and livelihood protection. It then discusses the potential for saving human lives by greater utilisation of the evidence base derived from studies of earthquake epidemiology. For example, there may be an opportunity to improve self-protective behaviour as a means of reducing casualties, especially in combination with knowledge of typical modes of the performance of buildings during earthquakes. There follows a discussion of the particular seismic vulnerability of critical infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and the means of reducing it by planning and well-calculated intervention. Seismic risk management needs to be comprehensive and often neglects some important factors. Hence, the next section discusses three of them: the plight of minorities, the protection of cultural heritage, and the management of veterinary emergencies. Following this, there is a discussion of the requirements for viable recovery from earthquake disasters. These include the need to make reconstruction, risk reduction and emergency intervention sustainable in their own right and part of general sustainability against all of the major risks that society faces. The paper concludes with some brief reflections on the process of learning lessons, as seen in the light of organisational learning theory. The use of evidence-based practice to achieve seismic disaster risk reduction has much further to go. To be accepted, it needs to be assimilated permanently into prevailing social and organisational cultures.


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How to Cite
Alexander, D. (2012). What can we do about earthquakes?. Bulletin of the New Zealand Society for Earthquake Engineering, 45(2), 49-60. https://doi.org/10.5459/bnzsee.45.2.49-60