Imagine if your house was completely destroyed and your life uprooted in a matter of minutes after an earthquake. Now imagine if studies from past earthquakes could have prevented that damage and suffering.

After a disaster like the Kumamoto earthquakes in Japan, which killed 69 people and injured over 3000, the only silver lining we may find is a lesson. Learning from these earthquakes and why they were so destructive enables us to better prepare and inform future generations and protect them from avoidable devastation.

Following the Kumamoto Earthquake in Japan, four selected geotechnical engineers, including WSP Opus’ National Technical Director, Pathmanathan Brabhaharan spent a week in Japan to study the effects of the earthquakes and how to enhance resilience globally.

The Japan earthquakes have a global relevance as they occurred in volcanic terrain, found in many locations throughout the world. With a main shock of magnitude 7, and magnitude 6.2 fore-shock, the earthquakes damaged 30,000 houses of which over 6000 collapsed and closed key roads leading to immense disruption to transport in the area, severely hindering response and recovery.

After investigation it was discovered that much of the damage to houses and main roads was caused by landslides and liquefaction. The rainfall caused landslides that turned into massive rivers of debris destroying roads and houses. Even well engineered human-built bridges, were no match to the forces of nature, as these landslides completely destroyed them cutting off critical access to help.

While some infrastructure and housing can be better engineered, the key lesson from the earthquakes is the importance of mapping natural hazards. Geotechnical studies will help us to understand how natural disasters like earthquakes could affect our communities and plan in order to avoid major hazards. The geotechnical engineers and geologists then need to be involved at early stages of projects, to translate the knowledge of hazards into action – in planning where we live and where we locate our critical infrastructure.

WSP Opus’ Brabhaharan was chosen for the mission because of his reputation in this field of engineering.

Brabha and the team are helping disseminate the learnings from the Japanese earthquakes. Brabha will also incorporate his learnings in helping shape new infrastructure projects.

WSP Opus’ human centred infrastructure development will help significantly reduce the suffering of people and communities in the future if such earthquakes happen again. WSP Opus will also share the learnings through its global network of offices to improve the resilience of people globally so we can better recover from disasters in the future.