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November 7, 2007

Calculating risk: Kyoto University expert to talk on earthquakes and other disasters

Charles Scawthorn, Professor of Lifeline Engineering at Kyoto University in Japan, will talk about the history and future of catastrophe risk analysis when he delivers the Eighth Annual Shah Family Lecture at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, in Annenberg Auditorium. The event, sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, is free and open to the public.

Scawthorn has three decades of experience assessing infrastructure risk for Global 1000 corporations, the insurance industry, FEMA, state agencies and the World Bank. A graduate of the Cooper Union, he received his PhD from Kyoto University.

"Humankind now finds itself in a curious situation, in which most of our 'modern' infrastructure predates our modern knowledge of earthquakes and how they damage buildings and infrastructure," he wrote recently. "The result is that in most of the world, including Japan, we are surprisingly at risk from natural disasters¬ómuch more so than our 'modern' steel and glass skyscrapers, shiny bullet trains and tiny new digital camera-phones would suggest. Much of our built environment is actually 'obsolete,' from a seismic and/or other natural disaster perspective."

Scawthorn notes that it took a century of study for earthquakes to be understood and quantified sufficiently to allow for risk management. Despite advances in managing the effects of earthquakes, floods, tropical cyclones, development and new technologies, fundamental improvements are still needed. "Risk analyses are as varied as the animals in a zoo," according to Scawthorn. At the same time, the demand for accuracy is increasing.

The Shah Family Fund was established in 1995 to provide annual fellowships for students in civil engineering, an annual prize for an outstanding staff member in the School of Engineering and an annual distinguished lecture on catastrophic risk management and related areas. Haresh Shah is professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. He is the founding member of the board of directors of Risk Management Solutions Inc. and a leading expert on probability and reliability theory.

For more information contact Racquel Hagen at 723-4150 or, or visit



Dan Stober, Stanford News Service: (650) 721-6965,

Racquel Hagen, Blume Earthquake Engineering Center: (650) 723-4150,

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