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Increasing Resilience to Earthquakes and Landslides in Shaanxi Province

Created a disaster scenario that vividly depicts likely casualties, damages, and actions to reduce risk. Chinese partners learned to develop this tool for public awareness and risk-informed planning.


China is home to 5 of the world’s 15 deadliest recorded earthquakes, marked above with the year they occured.

The deadliest recorded earthquake, accompanied by numerous landslides and aftershocks, happened in Shaanxi, China in 1556. It devastated Xi’an, the big city at the east end of the Silk Road. World population was perhaps 500 million, and 830,000 people perished in that event. A lesser but still deadly earthquake occurred in 1558 between Xi’an and Weinan, a city to the east along the Wei River.

Today, scientists know that earthquakes will recur on faults, and several faults in the Wei River Valley could generate a big one. We worked with colleagues from China and the United Kingdom to understand modern Weinan’s earthquake resilience challenges, and what might be done to address them.

Our role was to explain the risk to non-technical people and to show the steps needed to prepare. GeoHazards International developed a scenario of a plausible earthquake and a narrative that highlights key problems and solutions. Through a process we facilitated, people of diverse technical fields and experience contributed insights to define the likely hazard and the realistic consequences in Weinan. Also notable, several government agencies at national, regional and local levels collaborated for the first time on this effort.

We wrote one version of the scenario using a graphic novel format. This makes findings approachable to the public, including community members, rural families and youth. Characters in a fictional family encounter building collapses; landslides; disruption of transportation, water and power; damage to schools and hospitals; death, and injury. Readers can envision how their own lives would suddenly change when a major earthquake strikes.

We developed a second, more technical version of the story for regional, municipal, and local government officials. The project team’s research and technical studies on regional tectonics, landslide geology, structural engineering and social science are explained. This version includes short term and long term strategies to reduce vulnerability and make the community more resilient to earthquakes.



For the First Time in China:

  • Storytelling and graphic novel format is used to help the public and decision makers visualize an earthquake.

  • Physical scientists, engineers, social scientists, and artists collaborated on the scenario.

  • Showed the spectrum of impacts, material to emotional.

  • Integrated local knowledge with technical findings.

  • Informed disaster resilience planning at all levels.

Implementing Organizations

Institute of Geology, China Earthquake Authority (CEA)

Institute of Geophysics, China Earthquake Authority (CEA)

China Earthquake Disaster Prevention Center (CEDPC)

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Shaanxi Earthquake Agency, China

Overseas Development Institute (ODI), UK

Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, UK

Department of Architecture, University of Cambridge, UK

Department of Geography, Durham University, UK

School of Engineering, Newcastle University, UK

GeoHazards International, USA

Urban Resilience Strategies, USA


National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC)

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), UK

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), UK

Newton Fund, UK


Read the Weinan Scenario

See ScienceDirect article, free until 25 February 2020:

Creating an earthquake scenario in China: A case study in Weinan City, Shaanxi province 

News Post: Clues from China's Great Earthquakes

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