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Global Earthquake Safety Initiative

Technical information about likely lethality of earthquakes in 21 cities-- including vulnerable aspects of the built environment, schools and hospitals--to help the cities prioritize risk mitigation efforts.


Per Capital Risk of Casualties

The Problem

As the global population and economy grow, urban areas are also growing more rapidly than ever, especially in developing nations. These cities are in a unique position to make decisions that can reduce their future vulnerability to natural disasters. To implement successful development plans, cities must be able to assess their risk from natural disasters, to predict future risk patterns with and without mitigation efforts, and to track the long-term success of efforts that they do undertake.

GHI’s Response

GHI developed the Global Earthquake Safety Initiative (GESI) to meet the urgent needs of cities at risk from natural disasters. GESI offered cities information necessary to begin the process of addressing urban earthquake safety.

The Initiative had four main objectives:

  • To express urban earthquake risk in lay terms. Earthquake-threatened communities and their political leaders must understand the hazard that they face. GESI synthesizes technical information about the effect of earthquakes into simple risk characterizations, while also identifying the most vulnerable aspects of each community.

  • To measure trends in the urban earthquake risk of the world’s major cities. As people migrate to cities and urban areas expand, the risk of urban earthquake disaster increases considerably. Understanding the long-term growth patterns of a city is the first step in preparing mitigation plans. The second objective of this initiative was to measure how rapidly a developing city’s risk of life loss due to earthquakes is increasing due to growth, or decreasing due to mitigation efforts.

  • To produce a tool that allows cities to evaluate the effectiveness of various means of reducing earthquake casualties. The most important reason to understand earthquake risk is to become able to work to reduce it. However, it is not always easy to know how to reduce risk most effectively. The third objective of this project was to produce a tool that would help cities to evaluate which measures will have the most impact on saving lives.

  • To highlight the increasing earthquake risk of schools in developing countries and the potential for reducing that risk. The fourth objective of this project was to apply the tools described above to reduce the earthquake risk of public schools. Schools are vital, yet vulnerable, buildings, and they are a popular place for earthquake risk reduction activities to begin. This initiative compared the risk of loss of life for school children in cities around the world by broadly identifying which factors were likely to cause the most deaths in schools.



GHI conducted the analysis, prepared publications, and distributed the information collected from the GESI project. The results were presented in the form of a report to the cities, and the local participants were invited to attend an international symposium to exchange results and explore mitigation options. 

The Initiative worked to empower local governments and organizations to address urban earthquake risk with sustainable, economically feasible efforts by identifying the most vulnerable aspects of the built environment.

Cities participating in the first stage of the Initiative were:

  • The Americas – Antofagasta and Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador; Mexicali and Tijuana, Mexico; San Jose, Costa Rica; San Francisco, USA; San Salvador, El Salvador; Vancouver, Canada

  • Asia – Bandung and Jakarta, Indonesia; Islamabad, Pakistan; Kathmandu, Nepal; Kobe, Nagoya, and Tokyo, Japan; Manila, Philippines; Mumbai and New Delhi, India; Shanghai and Zigong, China; Tashkent, Uzbekistan

  • International Symposium Participation in the project included an invitation to attend an international symposium where project results were discussed, and cities shared mitigation experiences. To support continuing mitigation efforts, GHI encourages ongoing communication within a network of earthquake specialists and concerned individuals who offer support and technical information.

  • Europe – Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey

Long-Term Outcomes

  • The GHI method succeeded in motivating risk reduction, raising awareness, and establishing funding priorities and strategies for resource use in 21 cities, worldwide.

  • Project evaluations emphasized the need to specifically address the earthquake risk of schools and hospitals, which GHI has done in its subsequent projects


Full Report

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