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One Year Later: Haiti Earthquake of January 12, 2010

People attempt to carry on with daily life in a scene captured from Port-au-Prince in January 2010 shortly after the 7.0M earthquake.

Acquiring the Tools to Rebuild

While Haiti has yet to recover from a 7.0M earthquake that devastated the country last January, a year later its people continue to demonstrate resiliency and a determination to acquire the tools to rebuild a stronger Haiti.

The pace of the relief and recovery effort is slow. Nevertheless, MCEER Director Andre Filiatrault believes the future holds promise. The evidence is in the streets. The resilience of the Haitian people, Filiatrault said, is astonishing.

"I was there for about eight days after the earthquake...You notice the people on the streets, people trying to go about their lives," Filiatrault said. "They were clean, they were well-dressed, they were selling things on the corner of the streets."

A Different Kind of Mission

In more than 20 years as a center dedicated to earthquake and extreme event engineering, MCEER's investigators have led several reconnaissance missions in the aftermath of earthquakes and other natural disasters. But this time around, following the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, the mission was different.

MCEER and the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG) worked together to recruit, coordinate and dispatch a relief team of French-speaking structural engineers to evaluate the structural stability of hospitals and other crucial infrastructure in the earthquake-stricken region.

Led by MCEER Director Andre Filiatrault, the seven-day mission was critical to easing the delivery of medical services, food and water to the Haitian people. It also laid a foundation for a more sustainable UN effort to continue the evaluation of an estimated 100,000 damaged structures still standing in Port-au-Prince. In all, they inspected 115 buildings.

Wassim Ghannoum (University of Texas at Austin) lectures
to a full house at the Second UniQ-UB/MCEER Earthquake
Engineering Seminar on September 6, 2010.

"L'Union Fait La Force" - "Strength Through Unity"

Subsequent to its leadership of the relief mission, MCEER reflected on how it could best assist Haiti in the present day and beyond. As a result, MCEER together with the University at Buffalo (UB) Office of International Education, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Quisqueya University (UniQ) in Port-au-Prince.

"This is the best thing that we can do for Haiti," Filiatrault said, "to start educating the architects and engineers about the fundamental notions of earthquake engineering so that they can avoid past mistakes."

The MOU outlines short and long-term educational programs on seismic design of buildings with a focus on adapted techniques for reconstruction, with academic exchange and cooperation taking place over a three-year period. One of the most successful outcomes of the MOU to date is a seminar series in earthquake engineering for practicing engineers, graduate students and senior undergraduate students in Haiti.

The seminar series has distinguished itself from other training programs by providing all teachings in French, developing the curriculum in consultation with UniQ faculty, and basing it on Haitian construction practices. Each program includes hands-on exercises, design examples and in-field demonstrations.

"By providing this type of training, we are empowering Haiti's engineers and architects by helping them understand how earthquakes affect construction and how to build and preserve new construction against such occurrences," Haitian native and UniQ alumnus Pierre Fouché said. Fouché is a seminar instructor and a Ph.D. candidate in earthquake engineering at UB.

Participants are given a demonstration of proper masonry construction, led by Pierre Fouché and a local mason (not pictured) at the Second UniQ-UB/MCEER Earthquake Engineering Seminar in September 2010.

It is estimated that the seminar series has reached about 35 percent of engineers in Haiti with training in seismic design practices to date. Many participants are already applying the training they received in the seminar to assist in the preparation of technical proposals for the rehabilitation of existing structures that survived the January 12 earthquake.

"There is a willingness to learn. These professionals are open to this new type of knowledge; they truly seem committed to build differently. Our best course of action is to continue to empower them, by giving them the tools and skills they need to be effective when the reconstruction process does start," Fouché said.

The Next Chapter in Earthquake Engineering Education

For more information on past and upcoming professional development events in the UniQ-UB/MCEER Earthquake Engineering Seminar Series, visit the Seminars page.

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