Physical vulnerability modelling in natural hazard risk assessment

Douglas, J. (2007) Physical vulnerability modelling in natural hazard risk assessment. Natural Hazards and Earth System Science, 7 (2). pp. 283-288. ISSN 1684-9981 (

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An evaluation of the risk to an exposed element from a hazardous event requires a consideration of the element's vulnerability, which expresses its propensity to suffer damage. This concept allows the assessed level of hazard to be translated to an estimated level of risk and is often used to evaluate the risk from earthquakes and cyclones. However, for other natural perils, such as mass movements, coastal erosion and volcanoes, the incorporation of vulnerability within risk assessment is not well established and consequently quantitative risk estimations are not often made. This impedes the study of the relative contributions from different hazards to the overall risk at a site. Physical vulnerability is poorly modelled for many reasons: the cause of human casualties (from the event itself rather than by building damage); lack of observational data on the hazard, the elements at risk and the induced damage; the complexity of the structural damage mechanisms; the temporal and geographical scales; and the ability to modify the hazard level. Many of these causes are related to the nature of the peril therefore for some hazards, such as coastal erosion, the benefits of considering an element's physical vulnerability may be limited. However, for hazards such as volcanoes and mass movements the modelling of vulnerability should be improved by, for example, following the efforts made in earthquake risk assessment. For example, additional observational data on induced building damage and the hazardous event should be routinely collected and correlated and also numerical modelling of building behaviour during a damaging event should be attempted.