Global | 27 Jun 2014

The quantum leap

Luis is living in the countryside close to Lisbon, where he runs a textile production company together with his family. He owns a warehouse equipped with machineries, offices and a stock deposit, where he carries out his business activities, which amount to more than a million of euro every year. The warehouse was built before the introduction of the 1983 designing code for buildings (RSA), which outlined minimum standards for public and private constructions, and it is therefore inadequate to resist to even small magnitude shakes. “I have recently realized that we are living in a seismic prone area – says Luis – and that the economic consequences of a collapse would be devastating for my business. For this reason, I decided to insure the whole building and to undertake some simple measures to make it safer”.


The two-year PRISE project started on July 2013 under the patronage of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology, and is carried out by a consortium of institutions lead by the University of Porto. The main objective of the project is to estimate the economic and human losses in the Portuguese territory due to earthquakes.  

From researches conducted on buildings, demographic distribution and socio-economic vulnerability, the team derived exposure and physical vulnerability models to be integrated into the PRISE platform. The platform works in a fast and simple way: within minutes, when the IPMA (Portuguese Institute of the Sea and Atmosphere) sends an input about an earthquake event that surpasses a certain level of damaging potential, the system automatically triggers GEM’s OpenQuake Engine in order to come up with estimations both in terms of fatalities and damages.  “The OpenQuake Engine revealed all its efficiency when we tested the platform, – says Mario Marques, one of the project researchers – as it runs state-of-the-art calculations in an extraordinary short lapse of time”.

PRISE platform depicting real time seismic events


The civil protection agency and several companies have expressed a great interest in the project and they are convinced that the concept could easily be applied elsewhere. As future developments the team of researchers is also interested in understanding the vulnerability of other critical facilities, such as energy networks or lines of communications, with the intention to better plan post-disaster response actions and to define emergency paths.

PRISE platform - Custom events analyser



"In the first few hours, when information from the earthquake site is scarce, imprecise and “random”, estimations like those PRISE is able to make are necessary to address correctly and efficiently the search & rescue, as well as the assistance to people by civil protection organizations. Such estimations become more and more important as the earthquake is stronger, damage is widespread and damaged sites are difficult to be reached." Mauro Dolce, Civil Protection Agency, Italy

risk, vulnerability