PREPARE: Enhancing PREParedness for East African Countries through Seismic Resilience Engineering

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Civil Engineering


PREPARE develops a holistic seismic risk management framework for East Africa and co-produces practical tools and guidelines for enhanced disaster preparedness in close partnerships with local governmental and academic institutions. It aims at overcoming existing barriers to designing seismically resilient infrastructure in least developed countries using advanced risk assessments and suitable low-cost engineering solutions. The first case study focuses on Malawi and then extends to other East African countries. PREPARE is problem-led; actual needs have been identified and informed by local partners. The proposal spans the Schools of Engineering and Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol and Cardiff University, with project partners in Malawi and other East African countries. A major goal of this proposal is to communicate and transfer the body of research to local beneficiaries, allowing for community-based emergency responses and ensuring documentable impacts.
PREPARE is composed of four work packages (WPs): WP1 - Development of integrated seismic impact assessment tools for Malawi; WP2 - Tectonic investigations of strain accumulation and release in the Malawi Rift system; WP3 - Seismic vulnerability assessment of Malawian masonry buildings; and WP4 - Expansion of the framework to other East African countries. The aims of WP1 are: to implement a comprehensive earthquake risk impact assessment methodology, with versatile capabilities to update the hazard, exposure, and vulnerability modules, to extend the method by accounting for other earthquake-induced hazards, such as liquefaction and landslide; and to produce seismic hazard-risk outcomes in the form of hazard-risk maps, site-specific seismic design spectra, and seismic design guidelines. The main goal of WP2 is to provide more accurate information regarding the potential earthquake rupture characteristics of the fault systems in Malawi (i.e. location, length and recurrence interval of large earthquakes). The results will be integrated into WP1. WP2-1 will focus on updating the fault map of Malawi, studying how fault segments interact and their relationship to geological fabrics. WP2-2 will focus on mapping the strain using satellite- and ground-based geodetic methods to identify which structures are active and the rate and depth of strain accumulation across them. The main goal of WP3 is to evaluate the seismic vulnerability of Malawian buildings through numerical analyses, supported by experimental data. In WP3-1, surveys will be conducted to gather building information in Malawi. WP3-2 will focus on testing of local bricks and brick wall structures in Malawi, whereas WP3-3 will focus on developing numerical models of typical masonry buildings in Malawi and corresponding seismic fragility models for assessing the earthquake risk (WP1). The primary goals of WP4 are to develop a strain-based seismic hazard model for East Africa, which is quite innovative, and to carry out seismic hazard-risk assessments for East African countries (using the updated tools from WP1).

Planned Impact

PREPARE will promote sound scientific and engineering approaches to understanding earthquake hazard and vulnerability in East Africa, aiming to build more resilient communities and expand local capacity to deal with disasters. The project will lay the foundation for integrating seismic hazard and risk into policies for long-term infrastructure development and short-term emergency management. Beginning with work in Malawi, the long-term aim of PREPARE is to provide a framework for seismic resilience throughout East Africa. The impact plan has been developed based on close discussions with local project partners. The key project partners are: University of Malawi Polytechnic, Geological Survey Department, Malawi Bureau of Standards, Malawi University of Science and Technology, University of Malawi Chancellors College, University of Cape Town, and The Eastern and Southern African Seismic Working Group.
During the 3-year project period, the following main activities are planned: (Activity1) two 5-day international workshops (summer 2017 and 2019; WP1&4), (Activity2) six field trips in Malawi and Ethiopia/Eritrea over the 3-year period (WP2), (Activity3) testing of local bricks and real-size wall structures at the University of Malawi Polytechnic (summer 2017 and 2018; WP3), (Activity4) 4-week research stay at Bristol by local partners (6 researchers in total; WP1 to WP4), (Activity5) open-source computational tool development for earthquake impact assessment, and (Activity6) academic publishing. All these activities are to promote the collaboration, co-learning, and co-production and to make a real impact in improving the disaster preparedness of communities in Malawi and other East African countries.
The main objectives of the international workshops (Activity1) are to bring together a broad cross-section of stakeholders and with significant training elements. During the workshops, the UK investigators and East African partners will work together to share the latest research results and outcomes from the project and to co-develop and coordinate future plans of the project activities. In particular, to improve seismic resilience in Malawi and other East African countries, joint training sessions on topics that are most relevant for the local partners will be held. The main objectives of the field trips in Malawi and Ethiopia/Eritrea (Activity2) are to gather geological, geodetic, and seismological data for WP2 and training junior scientists from local partners for fieldwork. The testing at the University of Malawi Polytechnic's structural lab facility (Activity3) will introduce the state-of-the-art methods (e.g. a video tracking system for measuring the deformation) to evaluate the seismic vulnerability of local masonry structures in Malawi. This will improve the local capacity on structural testing in Malawi, which is critically lacking at the moment. The partners' visit and stay at Bristol (Activity4) will consolidate long-term relationships with local partners in East Africa and facilitates the knowledge transfer from the UK to developing countries. The development of open-source/free tools for earthquake impact assessment (Activity5), such as GNU-Octave-based earthquake risk assessment platform and OpenSees-based finite-element structural models will improve the technical capacity of the local partners. Finally, the outcomes of the PREPARE project will be disseminated through open-access journal publications with publicly accessible research data as well as presentations at international conferences and meetings (Activity6). These processes will involve local partners so that their academic records will be strengthened.


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