Toward an Open Global Earthquake Model

February 04, 2015

After two and a half years of development, the first iteration of OpenQuake has just been released. The initiative is led by the Global Earthquake Model (GEM), an independent non-profit headquartered in Pavia, Italy, which works to provide cat model access to communities traditionally priced out of the market.

GEM is an international forum for collaboration and exchange that pools data and leverages the knowledge of leading experts. Hundreds of organizations and individuals are involved, among them AIR, a founding member. Scientific and financial contributions from companies like AIR are a key facet of the private-public partnerships needed to help developing countries better plan for, react to, and recover from natural catastrophes.

OpenQuake consists of an engine for hazard and physical risk calculations, assorted tools to assist in model use, collecting data, and uploading and sharing data and findings, and a web-based interface that provides access to those data, models, and tools.

To date, GEM has focused on integrating the contributions of users into the platform to create an interactive environment in which stakeholders worldwide can calculate, visualize, and investigate earthquake risk. The open source software allows professionals from various fields to combine different GEM products and obtain key outputs for risk assessment, risk management, scientific research, and more. Many types of resources are or will be available through OpenQuake and GEM, including historical earthquake catalogs, a global strain rate model, active fault data, and regional hazard maps and hazard curves.

OpenQuake offers multiple benefits to users. First and foremost,it is open source and free. The engine has been tested for traditional probabilistic seismic hazard analysis using national hazard maps and site-specific earthquake engineering studies. More than 350 users in 80+ countries have been involved in the testing. OpenQuake output will be easy to share and publish. Alternative views, such as changing a ground motion prediction equation, are easy to create, and it is easy to publish and compare models.

The current release is a major milestone in an ongoing effort that will see GEM continue to enhance its products and services. For the next few years its main focus will be on developing regional collaboration, knowledge sharing, and technology transfer.

The current version of OpenQuake is not without its limitations. For example, the available hazard models implemented in OpenQuake are still quite limited in coverage and their quality is not uniform. Site conditions are generally not accounted for in the hazard results. And the risk calculation module has not been tested as rigorously as the hazard calculation module.

Nevertheless, this first release of OpenQuake is a considerable achievement. AIR's research team has already started using GEM's resources and some member insurer and reinsurer companies are using either the hazard layers or stochastic catalogs. In coming years, GEM and OpenQuake will provide a good resource for national or regional hazard maps and hazard curves worldwide. The risk management community, GEM, and contributors like AIR will surely benefit from each other as OpenQuake continues to develop.

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