The European Association of Earthquake Engineering: the next four years

 

Robin Spence

President, EAEE (2002-2006)

 

From the closing ceremony at the 12th European Conference on Earthquake Engineering, London, September 9-13th, 2002

 

 

The European Association of Earthquake Engineering is a mature organisation. Founded as the European Commission on Earthquake Engineering in 1964, it has grown steadily in membership and activity since that time. But as in any mature organisation, it is a good idea, from time to time, to take a look at its aims, and to evaluate its achievement against those aims.  This brief note aims to make a preliminary contribution (based on only partial knowledge) to such an evaluation.

 

The admirable aims of the EAEE (as set out your Conference brochure) are three. It exists first “to promote cooperation and interaction between earthquake researchers and earthquake engineers”; secondly “to support earthquake research and education” and thirdly “ to play an active role in earthquake mitigation in Europe”

 

In relation to the first of these aims, I would suggest that the Association - which is of course the sum total of all the activity of the member national societies - is rather successful. This conference has shown that there now exists a considerable degree of interaction and mutual respect between researchers and practitioners; moreover the exchanges are both cross-disciplinary and international - and this is not something which can be said of all disciplines.

 

In relation to the second aim, the Association can also claim a degree of achievement. We could of course do more, but earthquake research is given a considerable boost through the European Conferences and national meetings; the resulting growth in our understanding is fed back to engineering courses at undergraduate and post-graduate level; and the Association’s regional seminars are also an effective means of offering high-level education for a new generation of specialists.

 

As for the third aim, earthquake mitigation, to the extent that this is achieved by better understanding of the earthquake hazards, the development of codes of practice and their implementation through new building and infrastructure, we can say as a profession that we have had some success. But we also know that there are still very many buildings and facilities which were designed and built before (or without using) our current codes, and whose earthquake-resistance we know to be inadequate by today’s acceptable standards of safety. The point made by Professor Ambraseys in his lecture a few minutes ago is highly pertinent in this respect: “ where economic and political interests are involved, lessons learnt from disastrous earthquakes are not learnt for long” (Ambraseys, 2002). In these circumstances, it is we, the engineering community, who understand the risks and also know what can be done to reduce them, who must try to be the memory of the community, and keep reminding the political leaders and opinion-formers of the community what may happen if no action is taken. In this direction, I would suggest that there is more that we, as a society, could do.

 

With these general aims in mind, I will turn now to some of the specific aims we have for the next few years.

 

First, as you are all aware, we shall be moving towards individual membership, in addition to the existing pattern of membership through national societies. Individual membership will carry with it a subscription to the new-style Bulletin of Earthquake Engineering, a referreed journal to be published from 2003 by Kluwer. Individual membership can be taken out now, and I urge all members to get signed up over the next few months so that you can start to receive copies of the Bulletin from the time of publication of the first issue. Applications can be made on the EAEE website.

 

Secondly, we will continue to expand membership in new countries. As the boundaries of the European Union move outwards, so the (always much more extended) number of member countries of EAEE can be expected to grow. It will be of particular importance to welcome the European countries of the former Soviet Union and to develop effective ways to collaborate with them. As we have been reminded several times during this conference, these countries have a wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise to share; but they are not so well resourced as the EU countries are. They have also not been as well represented in this conference as we would like them to be, and we must find ways, perhaps through EU funding, to create and maintain better links, at both an individual and a national level.

 

Thirdly, we plan to continue and expand the programme of regional seminars. Events are already in planning for next year in Iceland and Greece, about which you will hear more, and we expect others to follow.

 

Next, we must aim to do what we can to get earthquake mitigation action plans onto the agendas of the planning authorities which need them, at every level all the way from the European Commission itself to the individual cities or regions. As members of a professional European Association, we believe we have an opportunity and a duty to offer opinions on this matter to the responsible and implementing authorities, and we mean to develop ways to do this more effectively than we have in the past.

 

Improving the benefits from our post-earthquake field missions is a matter of concern to me personally. At present we have many different organisations from different countries mounting field mission which, though valuable, are generally little coordinated, have overlapping aims and activities, and are generally too short to achieve any systematic data collection. I do not think we are yet ready for a single European Earthquake Field Team, though we should begin to think about this as our future goal. But by a degree of coordination, it should be possible to achieve much more, by way of collecting good research data and setting up longer programmes of study, than we have in the past, increasing the learning from each event. This applies as much to events which take place within Europe as those outside. The EAEE is the body which is in the best position to create a structure for this coordination, and we aim to see what we can do in this respect.

 

Finally, we are all aware of the way in which earthquake risk is polarising - with risk levels stabilising or declining in the wealthier countries, but still increasing rapidly in much of the developing world. In a recent study, only 2 of the worlds 30 cities with the highest earthquake risk were found to be in EAEE countries while 23 of them are in developing countries. (Coburn and Spence, 2002). We need to do what we can to try to assist the poorer countries to develop their own skills and institutional capability to deal with the earthquake risks they face. Perhaps human capacity-building - through training and research exchanges - is the contribution which we in the EAEE could best make. We could possibly, for example, establish a fund which would enable a larger number of delegates from developing countries to attend future conferences.

 

Can I say in conclusion that I am pleased and honoured to have the opportunity to help EAEE to face the challenges ahead. I can promise you that we will have an active four years.  We also want to hear the views of individual members (and national societies) on all these and any other matters, and we do ask you to contact me or any of the members of the Executive Committee either personally or through the EAEE website. Thank you.

 

References

 

Coburn, Andrew and Spence Robin, 2002. Earthquake Protection Second Edition, Wiley.

 

Ambraseys, N.N, 2002. “Engineering Seismology in Europe”, Keynote address, 12th European Conference on Earthquake Engineering, Paper 839, Elsevier.