Estimating Building Vulnerability to Volcanic Ash Fall for Insurance Purposes

TitleEstimating Building Vulnerability to Volcanic Ash Fall for Insurance Purposes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsBlong RJ, Grasso P, Jenkins SF, Magill C, Wilson T, McMullan K, Kandlbauer J
JournalJournal of Applied Volcanology
Date Published01/2017

Volcanic ash falls are one of the most widespread and frequent volcanic hazards, and are produced by all explosive volcanic eruptions. Ash falls are arguably the most disruptive volcanic hazard because of their ability to affect large areas and to impact a wide range of assets, even at relatively small thicknesses. From an insurance perspective, the most valuable insured assets are buildings. Ash fall vulnerability curves or functions, which relate the magnitude of ash fall to likely damage, are the most developed for buildings, although there have been important recent advances for agriculture and infrastructure. In this paper, we focus on existing vulnerability functions developed for volcanic ash fall impact on buildings, and apply them to a hypothetical building portfolio impacted by a modern-day Tambora 1815 eruption scenario. We compare and contrast the different developed functions and discuss some of the issues surrounding estimation of potential building damage following a volcanic eruption. We found substantial variability in the different vulnerability estimates, which contribute to large uncertainties when estimating potential building damage and loss. Given the lack of detailed and published studies of building damage resulting from ash fall this is not surprising, although it also appears to be the case for other natural hazards for which there are far more empirical damage data. Notwithstanding the potential limitations of some empirical data in constraining vulnerability functions, efforts are required to improve our estimates of building damage under ash fall loading through the collection of damage data, experimental testing and perhaps theoretical failure analysis. For insurance purposes, the current building typologies provided for use with vulnerability functions are too detailed to map to the relatively limited information on building types that is typically available to insurers. Thus, efforts to provide vulnerability functions that can be used where only limited information is available regarding building types would also be valuable, both for insurers and for at-risk areas that have not been subject to detailed building vulnerability surveys.