University of Iceland

Protection against the impact of earthquakes in urban areas

Protection against the impact of earthquakes in urban areas

Earthquakes are a manifestation of disturbances in the earth’s crust, sometimes connected to volcanic activity. Earthquakes and their consequences are Ragnar Sigbjörnsson, Professor of Earthquake Engineering’s field of study, but he also heads the Earthquake Engineering Research Centre. Sigbjörnsson is one of the most prolific scientists at the University of Iceland and highly respected within his field worldwide. He has produced over 300 publications in his career, including over a hundred peer reviewed scientific articles in some of the most prestigious scientific journals in the field of earthquake studies. Sigbjörnsson is currently working on an extensive international research project with scientific partners from all over Europe. The aim is to reduce earthquake induced risks.
 
“The study evaluates threat and danger in four main experimental areas where volcanic activity and earthquakes are prevalent; in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Iceland. One of the objectives is to develop a new international paradigm called the disruption index ,” says Sigbjörnsson. “The use of a disruption index creates a possibility to evaluate systematically the disruptions that occur in urban areas due to earthquakes. Most research in this field has focused on predicting what will happen during earthquakes, whereas this new index would give a clearer picture as to what could be done to minimize/temper the impact and consequences of possible disasters. Hveragerði town is the Icelandic reference in the utilization of a disruption index.”
 
The project, sponsored by the European Union, thus revolves around the development of preventive measures that municipalities and civil defence could apply. Before the turn of the century the UoI earthquake centre worked on a project, initiated by the locals from the earthquake area in South Iceland, on defence and equipment against the impact of earthquakes. The project was called Seismis and was in part funded by RANNIS – Icelandic Centre for Research. “People say damages caused by the South Iceland earthquake in 2000 were less extensive than could have been expected due to this project. The current study and others like it are thus invaluable for the inhabitants in earthquake areas. The interest in the pragmatic aspect of this European project is great as the results could be used in the field of seismology to better understand disasters and how their impact can be reduced by systematic preventive measures,” says Sigbjörnsson.
 
Sigbjörnsson says that by applying the disruption index that aim is to evaluate the disruption caused both by the earthquakes themselves as well as the derivative impact; e.g. sociological, social and economic effects. “Methodical monitoring reveals whether the disruption index increases or decreases and which factors control the changes. This can indicate what measures need to be taken to soften the blow from earthquakes and what the future impact will be.”
 
Ragnar Sigbjörnsson died 15 July 2015.
 
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