South America


The South America Risk Assessment (SARA) project took off in January 2013.

The three-year project aims to calculate hazard and risk, as well as to estimate the compounding social and economic factors that aggravate the physical damage and decrease the post-event capacity of populations to respond to and recover from damaging earthquakes in South America, by involving local experts from the region.

The project has been now extended to 7 countries: Peru, Equador, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. In addition to the seismic risk assessment at a national scale, a number of detailed city scenarios are also being developed, with the purposes of producing important results for communication of risk and disaster risk reduction

The project is carried out with experts and institutions from the regions, who can build on what is being developed within the context of GEM: more uniform datasets and innovative methodologies, using GEM’s new open source software, the OpenQuake-engine and other tools.

More than 50 experts from 17 local and 2 European organization in collaboration with the GEM Secretariat are carrying out this important work, with the support of the SwissRe Foundation.

“Our collaboration with the Global Earthquake Model in South America is perhaps our most ambitious and long-range effort at disaster risk reduction. The region is not only exposed to high levels of seismic hazard, but it is particularly vulnerable physically as well as socioeconomically. No one will take action, however, unless they are convinced they are at risk”. SwissRe Foundation


The project has 2 overarching goals:

To obtain input for seismic risk management: collaboratively developing tools and information to support decisions in South American countries related to seismic risk management.

To build upon local research capabilities: working with regional scientists who posses a wealth of local knowledge and to produce products and visualizations. These outputs can then empower them as well as disaster managers and other professionals to act as advocates for seismic safety in their governments and communities.


The project mainly revolves around 4 modules: hazard, physical vulnerability and exposure, social vulnerability and city scenarios. These modules will be carried out by a variety of experts/scientists from the region, in collaboration with the project coordinators and where relevant the GEM Secretariat.

Here below a graphical overview of the project, followed by a decription of progresses and achievements for each module:


Seismic Hazard


  • Building a seismic hazard model for the region
    • Archive of seismic catalogues including historical and instrumental seismicity
    • Database of GPS data, and harmonised database with shallow active faults and subduction interface faults
    • Evaluation and testing of GMPEs in the region
  • Hazard calculations and maps

RESULTS (2014)

- State-of-the-art: PSHA models for most of the south american countries and a regional model are being implemented into the OpenQuake Engine and verified, in addition there are discussions with all collaborators on sharing models and underlying data for joint use.

- Active Faults: The database structure has been defined and a strategy for data compilation put in place, guidelines for compilation of the databases will soon be reviewed by all participants.

- Subduction: A database of focal mechanisms was developed, and some preliminary analysis and research has been carried out focusing on the geometry, the spatial distribution and segmentation.

- Earthquake catalogue: The compilation of a harmonized ‘SARA’ catalogue is very much work in progress. It will be an integrated catalogue containing historical and instrumental events. The work on the instrumental data has so far focused on collecting existing catalogues and preparing the approach for merging the data they contain, using a catalogue harmonization tool which is currently being developed by the GEM Secretariat Hazard Team. The work on historical data already resulted in an initial working database.

- Crustal deformation: The current plan is to continue exploring ways to create hazard models from tectonics, use the 2015 version of the Global Strain Rate model to support the creation of the regional SARA hazard model and start local collaboration focusing on specific areas (e.g. nations or smaller areas) currently covered by projects aiming at the creation of tectonic (strain) models. This component is still under discussion.

- Ground Motion Prediction Equations: The experts involved in this component collected records of significant earthquakes from their countries; so far five countries are participating, and have now almost finished processing the strong motion records which are being discussed mid-November in La Paz, Bolivia.

- Regional Seismic Hazard Model: Intensive discussions have taken place over the past year about the possible structure, components, implementation methodologies and expected hazard results. Currently the plan is for the experts involved in the above mentioned tasks to create a regional harmonized area source based input model, leveraging existing models. This model will be included as a ‘branch’ of the SARA hazard logic tree.

Physical Vulnerability / Exposure


  • Basic reports describing common residential building typologies
  • Detailed reports of selected building typologies
  • Development of national and sub-national residential building exposure databases (with information on the statistical distribution of the building typologies, building counts and replacement costs)
  • Review of existing fragility and vulnerability functions for common residential building typologies in South America
  • Development of fragility and vulnerability functions

RESULTS (2014)

The Secretariat Risk Team is working with EAFIT and CIGIDEN in the region on the following:

- Regional exposure model for the Andean Countries based on census-information
- Sub-national exposure model for Antioquia at the level of municipalities
- Exposure model for Chile at the level of communes
- Identification of building typologies in South America by using the TaxT tool and the World Housing Encyclopedia templates.
- A literature research on existing vulnerability and fragility functions
- Capacity development workshop on tools, resources and approaches for exposure and vulnerability modeling


Exposure MOdel Development in Chile: number of dwellings for provinces and communes


Socio-Economic Vulnerability and Resilience


  • Socio-economic indicators database for the region
  • Social vulnerability index report and database
  • Disaster resilience index report and database
  • Economic vulnerability index report and database
  • Validation, sensitivity, and uncertainty testing and update of indices

RESULTS (2014)

The main accomplishments in the past year have been:
- creation of databases explicitly for indicators of socioeconomic vulnerability and resilience at national and subnational levels of geography
- preliminary assessments of indicators of social at different geographical scale
- review of methodologies for assessing impacts on social sectors.

Most work is envisaged to take place during the third year of the project and includes continued database development at the sub-national level, index development, index validation, and sensitivity analysis.

Preliminary map of composite indicators of social vulnerability by districts in Peru

By December 2015, collaborating partners will have carried out regional and integrated risk assessment for the Andean Region Countries, and will have produced different types of actionable information that will be openly shared through the OpenQuake Platform and promoted with experts in the region. Results will include scenario-based information: maps and statistics of ground-up losses, damage distributions and collapse map, but also probabilistic information such as a hazard map, loss exceendence curves, maps event loss tables and loss disaggregation charts. 

City Scenarios


  • City scenario reports (buildings and infrastructure)
  • Regional risk report for buildings
  • Workshops on risk mitigation with local stakeholders

RESULTS (2014)

A significant improvement from the original plan is that work on city scenarios and applications has been extended to cover currently in total 6 cities; next to Lima in Peru and Quito in Ecuador, there are now also Medellin in Colombia, and Iquique, Osorno and Rancagua in Chile

- Quito (Ecuador): An agreement with the Municipality of the Metropolitan District of Quito and the Center of Development and Technology Transfer of the University of San Francisco of Quito; is almost in place, after which work will start. To prepare, input datasets made available by the municipality are already being studied, such as a recent building survey.

- Lima (Peru):; Field work is planned with local experts and students for identification of building types and to adjust a mapping scheme for the city as a basis for scenario development.

- Medellin (Colombia): The EAFIT research group is building an exposure model for the city, at the level of the neighborhoods.

- Iquique, Rancagua and Osorno (Chile): The research group of CIGIDEN is developing detailed exposure models for these three cities. In addition researchers used IDCT tools for the classification of damaged buildings after the Iquique earthquake in April 2014.



Researchers from the following organisations are participants in the project:

  • Argentina: National University of San Luis, National Institute of Seismic Prevention (INPRES)
  • Bolivia: San Calixto Observatory
  • Brazil: National Observatory, University of São Paulo
  • Chile: National Research Center for an Integrated Disaster Risk Management (CIGIDEN), University of Chile, Schlumberger Water Services
  • Colombia: Colombian Geological Survey, EAFIT University, National University of Colombia, University of Valle
  • Ecuador: University of San Francisco de Quito, Metropolitan District of Quito; Escuela Politecnica National, National Engineering School
  • Peru: Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Peru (PUCP), Centro Peruano Japonés de Investigaciones Sísmicas y Mitigación de Desastres (CISMID)
  • Venezuela: Venezuelan Foundation for Seismological Research (FUNVISIS)
  • International: Joseph Fourier University (France), National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology Milan (Italy)

In addition there are many researchers that collaborate on the different sub-topics related to seismic hazard from all countries mentioned, plus Uruguay.

From the GEM Secretariat, Jairo Valcàrcel, Julio Antonio Garcia, Catalina Yepes Estrada, Miguel Torque and Mabel Vilar are collaborators from the continent that play an active role in the project. Coordinators Marco Pagani, Vitor Silva and Christopher Burton and scientists Graeme Weatherill, Anirudh Rao and Chiara Casotto are furthermore working on the project. 

Capacity Development

Capacity Development and knowledge sharing is an integral part of the project. This mostly happens in the form of hands-on workshops for local experts that participate in the project. The workshop introduce tools and resources, which are then used actively by the experts within the project, with support from the Secretariat as needed. Examples of these are:

-  A training workshop on state-of-the-art of seismic hazard in South America, Colombia. The workshop focused on the OpenQuake Engine and Hazard Modellers Toolkit as well as discussion between the participants from various countries on seismic hazard models and assessment approaches. 

-  A training workshop on exposure and vulnerability modeling in Colombia. The workshop featured introductions to GEM tools and methodologies for exposure modelling and vulnerability and subsequent working sessions. For exposure, special attention was paid to the procedure that was developed for creation of a building inventory in Peru. The working session revolved around building typologies and led to estimates of building fractions for urban and rural areas for each country. For vulnerability, there was an in-depth discussion about the GEM guidelines for development of analytical and empirical vulnerability functions, as input to evaluating fragility of common residential building types in the region.
Other workshops within the SARA projects in the last couple of years:

- Seismic Hazard Assessment in South America, Bogota, 2013
Ground Motion Prediction Equations, Rio de Janeiro (1) and La Paz (2), 2014
Active Faults, Santiago de Chile, 2014

Key experts from the project are in addition facilitated to follow other GEM-related trainings and courses as much as possible, such as a workshop for partners on risk, as well as a university course on physical vulnerability.

In addition we try as much as possible to share information about the project in general as well as interim outcomes with the wider community. Examples of that are:

-  The SARA project was featured in the GEM Booth at GFDRR’s 2014 Understanding Risk Forum by means of posters as well as overview presentations

-  At the III Latin American Conference of Seismology, SARA collaborators presented the following:

  • Modeling Seismic Hazard in South America: current state-of-the-art based on activities carried out within the SARA project: Julio Antonio Garcia, GEM Secretariat, Italy
  • Hacia un catálogo actualizado de terremotos de Sur América: ventana temporal pre-1930: Augusto Antonio Gomez Capera (Topic-4 hazard coordinator), INGV, Italy
  • Towards the construction of a Seismic Catalogue suitable for PSHA studies in South America: Instrumental contribution: Herbert Rendon (Topic-4 hazard coordinator), FUNVISIS, Venezuela
  • South American strong-motion database and comparison with Ground-Motion Prediction Equations: a GEM initiative: Stephane Drouet (Topic-6 hazard coordinator), National Observatory, Brazil
  • Probabilistic seismic hazard assessment in Quito city, estimates and uncertainties: Hugo Yepes, University J. Fourier, Grenoble, France

The project clearly also facilitates meetings between local experts working on one or more of the topics throughout the duration of the project and personal interactions with GEM Secretariat members who (from time to time) base themselves in the region to facilitate the work being carried out.