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Seismic Cities

Role: Researcher
Funding Body: Natural Environment Research Council
Award: £130,000
Date: December 2016


written by John Elliott

We aim to make a radical increase in awareness, preparedness and resilience for cities vulnerable to earthquake hazard. We believe this can be achieved by connecting the earthquake research community in physical and social sciences, emergency managers, city officials and planners, engineers, creative arts communities and NGOs through the concept of “Seismic Cities”, and engaging directly with local communities. Seismic Cities will comprise a multi-disciplinary gathering of communities brought together every 2 years at a different city to exchange and share the results of focused, applied research, in order to raise local and international awareness of earthquake hazard in that city. This will target decision-makers and the general public, and facilitate exchange of experiences between cities from all over the world. We will achieve this through developing models of intercommunal mentorship, and by developing a seismic resilience plan for the city that aims to build capacity and resilience in at-risk communities, promoting the sustainability of such cities. We will build on an existing successful framework developed for cities exposed to volcanic hazards.


This funded research project provided the opportunity to apply the research methods developed as part of Experience Temple Works in a completely new context: fieldwork aiming to explore, and respond to, the extent to which the citizens of Santiago are prepared for 'seismic events'. This collaboration with psychologists and earth scientists might have appeared to be quite unlikely at first, but rapidly developed into a highly cohesive project.

Using participatory methods including community storytelling and the development of multisensory research materials in collaboration with the residents of Santiago, my PhD supervisor, Simon Popple, and I instigated the co-creation of a range of online assets regarding the issue of preparedness. These included a multisensory virtual archive of a nuclear reactor located within the city and a series of 360° photographs, 360° videos and binaural field recordings of an earthquake drill taking place within a school (see section 5.3 of the thesis).

The extent to which the research methods developed as part of Experience Temple Works found applicability within a completely different context was very encouraging. I argue in the thesis that these methods have the potential to make an impact beyond the intended purview of anthropology and ethnography and this project substantiates that argument. However, this project also took the methods in a new direction. Rather than creating all of the multisensory research materials ourselves, we trained the residents of Santiago in the use of 360° photography, binaural field recording and digital storytelling, empowering them to create shareable resources of their own. This approach not only created a positive, dialogic relationship with the participants, it also resulted in the continued creation of valuable resources after our fieldwork had finished. See for instance, this resource regarding earthquake drills, created by schoolchildren attending the Colegio Altazol Del Maipo: