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Next Generation Scenarios: Studies and Guidance

A scenario can tell a story of a probable-but-hypothetical disaster. By showing specific consequences–to people, buildings, infrastructure, and land–this tool can make complex data understandable for decision-makers, most of whom are not specialists in technical fields.


This project aims to significantly advance the use of scenarios to plan for and to mitigate risk from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides.

Even in high-risk areas, people may not have direct experience with these events. Envisioning damages that can happen in the future—and what can be done in advance to change such outcomes—is a powerful approach that brings risk problems and potential solutions into focus.

We are researching scenario practices that move science-based assessment of a hazard into action. Our research will answer two questions: What features of past scenarios (such as technical detail, local government and professional participation, or community engagement) have motivated pre-disaster mitigation and policy change? How could the next generation of scenarios be improved to motivate actions that build resilience?


A 1997 earthquake scenario for Kathmandu Valley, Nepal estimated widespread damage, and vulnerable schools became a priority. This scenario sparked local action for safer construction, including NSET-Nepal retrofitting hundreds of schools. The 2015 M7.8 earthquake demonstrated the value of those proactive measures–all retrofitted schools survived. Two surviving schools above have seismic-resistant features.

We conducted numerous interviews in four countries with people who either developed geologic hazards scenarios or used scenarios to inform planning and policy. Our research and interview findings can move these tools to a new level, making them even more effective in encouraging mitigation. We are developing next generation scenario guidance that incorporates practice advances related to these topic areas:

  • Concurrent and interrelated hazard events

  • Community engagement approaches

  • Risk communication, including visualization products

  • Policy development strategies

  • Groups of scenarios or future contexts

  • Cross-border and/or multi-country events

We are also preparing guidance for scenario-based mitigation planning. Project guidance will support the full process of co-developing scenarios with local professionals and decision-makers, and then putting the findings and recommendations into action to mitigate risk.

This program is funded by a grant from the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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