Keeping an eye on natural hazards

The challenge

With the news cycle and online earthquake, storm and tsunami trackers, it's easy to know when a natural hazard has occurred. But if you own a building, or a portfolio of buildings, it's much harder to know what to do about it. Was the storm in your area? Was it big enough to cause damage? How can we use hazard monitoring and engineering to improve resilience of our building and infrastructure portfolios?

In this article

  • How we use a tool we created called hazard owl to monitor buildings and infrastructure in real time by comparing an asset's information against publicly available hazard feeds.
  • The type on information asset owners can receive about hazards, and the effect on the condition of their buildings or infrastructure.
  • The data collected from assets in real time, and how that creates a feedback loop into our design processes.

In 2016, a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked Taiwan. Within minutes, Arup’s Hazard Owl was able to asses 40 nearby buildings and provide warnings and recommendations to affected building owners.

We can’t prevent these types of events but we can reduce their impact, plan ahead, and recover more quickly. While Arup holds a wealth of knowledge about the buildings we design, the response is still typically manual and reactive in face of bushfires, floods, tsunamis and cyclones. Hazard Owl supports Arup’s role as a domain expert by giving our clients quick advice on potential hazard impacts to their people, buildings, and businesses.

“The technology taps into streams that already exist’ says Tim Mote. “What we’re adding is Arup’s layer of expertise.” Tim has spent the past five years developing the product with Roland Martin, one of our GIS and machine learning experts in LA.

Hazard Owl integrates BIM models into an automated system that monitors structures against hazard feeds. When hazard events do occur, owners receive an SMS or e-mail letting them know how their infrastructure has been affected and whether or not there are any risk mitigating actions that need to be taken in real time.

Translating Technology

Hazard Owl accesses project information by plugging directly into infrastructure BIM models and creates a real-time information feed indicating when a hazard has surpassed a structures vulnerability limits. This lets us warn building owners within minutes of any potential impact and provides instant risk mitigation strategies to protect people and assets.

Tim is also excited about the potential for machine learning within Hazard Owl, particularly across portfolios with a number of assets.

“We’re creating a huge database of the performance of all these structures for our clients over the life of the building. 14,000 engineers around the world and thousands of structures and projects all inputting into one knowledge base--wouldn’t that be something.”

“Take for example high risk slopes on the road. There’s often a network of 3,000 and every year a number of those fail because of rainfall. If we can correlate those failings with rainfall events, we can better analyse those triggers and incorporate those insights into future designs.”

As thousands of Arup-designed projects are plugged into the system, any hazard impacts can be monitored using machine learning to deepen our understanding of asset performance. Moreover, by gathering data we can strengthen our buildings into the future, creating  a safer, more sustainable, built environment.

The Hazard Owl operating system at work.

Resilient Resources

While most hazard feeds are geared for individual safety, Hazard Owl is registering these events with a focus on the resilience of buildings and infrastructure. Hazard Owl registers between 5,000 and 10,000 hazards worldwide at any given time. This research projects allows us to respond to events more quickly and to catch incidents we might otherwise have missed.

Hazard Owl is always watching out for us! She taps into the numerous hazard feeds out there and compares the intensity the event – be it ground shaking from an earthquake or rainfall intensity from a storm – with what our clients infrastructure was designed to withstand. This will allows us to provide them with robust, comprehensive advice as to how their building has been affected within minutes of an event.

“Hazard Owl gives Arup the ability to be reactive and resilient in the face of natural hazards, which are constantly changing, due to climate change.”

“It’s not just about reporting damage.” says Tim. “One unexpected learning we’ve found is that the system returns a lot of value just by telling owners that there’s no expected damage to their building.” This improves business continuity and gives people peace of mind.


  • Using Machine Learning, Hazard Owl combines BIM and real time hazard data to let clients know when their infrastructure is at risk. Dynamic tools like Hazard Owl will play a critical role in the future of natural hazard management and disaster reduction.
  • By rapidly communicating situational awareness and sharing risk mitigation strategies, Arup can improve business continuity and peace of mind to asset owners throughout an asset's lifecycle.
  • We can optimise an asset's maintenance and replacement requirements, by using Hazard Owl to comparing hazard exposure events against asset performance, offering additional benefit to clients.

This story was written by Jeff McAllister, as part of the Research Review. This series is produced by the Arup Australasia Research team; Alex Sinickas, Bree Trevena and Jeff McAllister with contributions from Sheda and Noel Smyth.

Lead Arup Researcher

Tim Mote
Tim is an Associate Principal with our Transport & Resources team.

Ask Tim about

  1. The systems and scripts underlying the Hazard Owl and how it integrates into BIM
  2. Selecting appropriate public data streams - which sources we've chosen to monitor and how Hazard Owl follows these streams in real time
  3. What we've learned from monitoring assets using Hazard Owl and how we're incorporating these lessons learnt into our designs


Research TEAM

Engineer, Mebourne office
Roland is a GIS consultant and a machine learning expert.

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