The determination of seismic risk in urban settlements has received increasing attention in the scientific community during the last decades since it allows to identify the most vulnerable portions of urban areas and therefore to plan opportune strategies for seismic risk reduction. In order to accurately evaluate the seismic risk of urban settlements it should be necessary to estimate in detail the seismic vulnerability of all the existing buildings in the considered area. This task could be very cumbersome due to both the great number of information needed to accurately characterize each building and the huge related computational effort. Several simplified methods for the assessment of the seismic vulnerability of existing buildings have been therefore presented in the literature.
In order to estimate the occurrence of damage in buildings due to possible seismic excitations, the published studies usually refer to response spectra evaluated according to seismic events expected in the territory with assumed probabilities. In the present paper seismic events are instead simulated using a modified Olami-Feder-Christensen (OFC) model, within the framework of Self-Organized Criticality. The proposed methodology takes into account some geological parameters in the evaluation of the seismic intensities perceived by each single building, extending the approach presented in a previous study of some of the authors. Here, a large territory in the Sicilian oriental coast, the metropolitan area of Catania (Sicily), which includes several urbanized zones with different features, has been considered as a new case study. Applications of the procedure are presented first with reference to seismic sequences of variable intensity, whose occurrence is rather frequent in seismic territories, showing that the damage can be progressively accumulated in the buildings and may lead to their collapse even when the intensities of each single event are moderate. Moreover, statistically significant simulations of single major seismic events, equivalent to a given sequence in terms of produced damages on buildings, are also performed. The latter match well with a novel a-priori risk index, introduced with the aim of characterizing the seismic risk of each single municipality in the considered metropolitan area. The proposed procedure can be applied to any large urbanized territory and, allowing to identify the most vulnerable areas, can represent an useful tool to prioritize the allocation of funds. This could be a novelty for risk policies in many countries in which public subsidies are currently assigned on a case-by-case basis, taking into account only hazard and vulnerability. The use of a risk index in the allocation process will allow to include the relevant role of exposure.