What we do

CAR was founded in 1987 by a group of academics from the Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies, a research unit within Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture. The Martin Centre has many years’ experience of research on the vulnerability of the built environment to a wide range of natural and man-made hazards.

From the foundation of CAR, risk in the built environment has been a core area of the company’s activities. CAR’s early experience in this field focused on conducting damage surveys in the aftermath of major events, analysing building damage and correlating damage levels with earthquake intensity and construction type. These first-hand data formed the basis for the development of CAR’s expertise in risk assessment and mitigation in developing countries and earthquake-prone regions around the world, carried out for government agencies and international organisations involved in civil protection and post-disaster recovery.

Before long, CAR’s know-how attracted the attention of private sector clients such as insurance companies, who saw the potential for integrating CAR’s vulnerability models with their existing earthquake occurrence models to produce a more accurate loss estimation capability. During the 1990s, CAR extended its risk modelling capability in breadth and depth, developing models for a wide range of perils and territories, as well as co-operating with hazard specialists to develop standalone risk models capable of offering clients a turnkey solution.

When CAR first became involved in risk studies in the 1990s, the science of catastrophe modelling was predominantly hazard-driven, with the emphasis placed on predicting the frequency, severity and geographic distribution of natural hazards, while the building stock exposed to these hazards was assumed to be a largely homogenous entity with limited variation in vulnerability between building types or geographic regions.

This approach reflected the scarcity of reliable data on building performance around the world, but it represented a fundamental weakness in the science, insofar as risk is a function of both hazard and vulnerability. Only vulnerability can explain why a small earthquake in India results in higher casualties and more destruction than a large earthquake in California.

Furthermore, while earthquakes and hurricanes are natural phenomena which are inherently difficult to predict, buildings are man-made structures whose performance is more susceptible to prediction and modification. By focusing systematically on the vulnerability of buildings and infrastructure, CAR has been able, in co-operation with hazard specialists, to significantly refine the loss prediction process.

With its research hinterland in the fields of structural engineering and building technology, CAR was ideally qualified to make this important contribution to the science of catastrophe modelling, which has now become a standard feature of state-of-the-art catastrophe models worldwide.

Since CAR’s foundation, CAR experts have been leading the expansion of risk management expertise in Cambridge, from research to consultancy and through to the development of risk management systems for business applications. In 1993, CAR spun off a commercial venture, CARtograph Ltd, focused on the production of geographic risk management systems for the UK insurance and international reinsurance industries. Commencing life as a six-person start-up, within five years CARtograph grew into the leading European company within its field, before merging with the current global leader Risk Management Solutions (RMS Inc.) of San Francisco, USA.

In 1998 Prof. Robin Spence, Director of the CAR Risk Group, established the Cambridge University Centre for Risk in the Built Environment (CURBE) a multi-disciplinary forum designed to foster research co-operation between different departments of Cambridge University involved in the risk field, including the Departments of Architecture, Engineering, Geography, Public Health and Earth Sciences.

In 2008, Dr. Andrew Coburn (currently Senior Vice President at RMS Europe, and co-founder of CAR and CARtograph) established the Centre for Risk Studies, a research unit within Cambridge University’s Judge Institute of Business Studies. These developments have made Cambridge today a leading centre of expertise in risk management. CAR is at the centre of these developments and plays a crucial role in converting research excellence into practical advice and support for decision-making for its international client base.

Through its close links with the University of Cambridge, CAR is part of a global network of research institutions specialising in the risk management field. This allows CAR to access the most authoritative data sources swiftly and economically, to assemble, lead or participate in international consortia for multi-disciplinary projects, and to achieve a truly global reach in its data gathering and risk analysis capability.