GEM Impact Story Series
a vital element for productivity
Early in my career, I spent several years as a postdoctoral and research fellow at the ANU’s Research School of Earth Sciences researching deep earth structure. My seismology really didn't involve earthquakes. It involved earth structure which people aren't that interested in.
Inspired in Japan
In 1997, I worked as a research scientist at the Japan Agency for Marine- Earth Science and Technology, where I eventually led a research program in earthquake and tsunami science. That’s when I started working on earthquakes.
In Japan, people were very interested in earthquakes. Every time I talked to anyone, friends or people I met on the street or at the bus station, they were very interested in earthquakes and so that really got me excited and I just became much more interested in the earthquakes themselves.
GEM and Geoscience Australia partnership
In 2001 I moved back to Australia to lead Geoscience Australia’s (GA) Earthquake and Tsunami Hazard Project, where I became the Principal Scientist in GA’s Regional Development Section. We have been involved in earthquake hazard assessment in Australia for a very long time.
GA provides expert geo scientific information to the Australian government and to the public and that includes earthquake hazard information. GA joined GEM in 2010 as a public sponsor to contribute to this knowledge. I represented GA from 2016 to 2019.
Hazard assessment before OpenQuake
We've done earthquake assessment for a very long time and we have used a variety of methods, and a software to do that. At some point, we were developing our own software and spending a lot of resources for that purpose. We realized that we were really spending so much resources just developing the software that we really didn't have much time to devote to the actual data analysis and improving the quality of information.
Increased productivity with scientific collaboration
When GEM came along, they were an organization that provided excellent tools and software that allowed us to focus more on the science and our data analysis. We were able then to improve greatly the information that went into the earthquake hazard assessment without having to spend lots of time just developing the software.
A hub for earthquake knowledge
Currently, I'd say in the world, GEM has the greatest concentration of earthquake hazard and risk expertise available anywhere. It’s a knowledge hub for earthquake hazard and risk analysis.
GEM impact at Geoscience Australia
Collaborating with GEM has improved the quality of our research on earthquakes because it has greatly improved the quality of our earthquake hazard assessments. It has made a dramatic difference in the quality of the outputs.
From software development to quality of data and data analysis
Working with GEM allowed us to focus more on the quality of our data and our data analysis rather than the software development and this has really resulted in a dramatic improvement in the Australian earthquake hazard map.
Earthquake risk and world population
I think that there are places in the world where earthquake risk is very much unappreciated. Over the course of the past couple of centuries, or in the people's living memory, there haven't been big earthquakes. But the population has grown dramatically and they've built lots of buildings without really thinking about the earthquake risk.
GEM and public good
At the moment the world faces, at least in some places, very pronounced earthquake risk and people don't really know how to deal with this. Having an organization like GEM where they have expertise, they have a place they can go to benefit from this kind of expertise in earthquake hazard and risk assessment. It is really important for those places in order to try to reduce future fatalities.
About the GEM Impact Stories
Earthquake risk remains abstract and highly technical, and there are significant risks that due to poor or limited understanding of it, policymakers and the public at large may not be able to fully take advantage of existing and future information that can either help create better or enhance existing earthquake risk reduction and management strategies, especially at the local and national level.
Specifically, the GEM Impact Stories project aims to:
Collect and document stories where GEM or its partners have contributed to positive change;
Encourage policy and decision makers to use science- and evidence- based information to formulate earthquake DRR strategy at the national level through positive stories of change; and
Increase awareness of the public at large on earthquake risk and preparedness.
About Prof. Phil R. Cummins
Phil Cummins received his PhD in Geophysics from U. California Berkeley in 1988. He spent several years as a postdoctoral and research fellow at the ANU’s Research School of Earth Sciences researching deep earth structure. Since 2010 he has also held a position as Prof. Natural Hazards at ANU’s Research School of Earth Sciences. (source: ANU website)
Our heartfelt thanks goes to: Prof. Phil Cummins for contributing his story and valuable time with us; Simona Confalonieri and her team at videografiaitaliana.it for the video interview; and Jill Schneider for the support provided during the interview.