When the next big earthquake hits a region like San Francisco, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grantee Kristy Tiampo wants to ensure that communities will not only be able to evacuate, but also rebuild.
This is why Tiampo, the NSERC and Benfield/ICLR Industrial Research Chair in Earthquake Hazard Assessment, is involved in an international effort to improve earthquake forecasting. She studied earthquake engineering in California as an undergraduate, and is now using her research to build better forecasting maps in Canada and other countries.
Within the next five years, she and her collaborators hope to produce 10-year forecasts for several countries. They will use the information to make suggestions to governments about which areas should shore up their buildings and determine the order of preparations.
“We now know where many potential earthquake hot spots are, but the key is to direct government spending towards the areas that need attention,” says Tiampo. “For the most part, we work with hazard maps predicting the next 30 to 50 years of ground shaking over a widespread area. We need to pinpoint locations so we know where to provide support first.”
Tiampo and other collaborators are adapting their forecast methods from an old physics technique called “phase dynamics.” This means they are calculating the number of earthquakes in a small location, such as San Francisco, and then comparing it to the earthquake rate for an entire region.
The broader issue, Tiampo says, is sociological. Once scientists have the information, it is difficult for them to publish papers saying where the earthquake will occur because the people who it affects do not know the implications.
“One of the main elements of my research focuses on finding ways to communicate the risks responsibly and accurately to both the government and public officials, to make sure that they are prepared when they have the information in hand.”