BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Last weekend at a university campus in
Port-au-Prince, where not a single building withstood the January
earthquake, more than 200 Haitian engineers, architects and other
professionals gathered in tents in temperatures hovering near 100
degrees F to begin learning the principles of earthquake-resistant
From May 20-22, the University at Buffalo's MCEER and
Universitè Quisqueya, (UniQ) held their first jointly
sponsored Earthquake Engineering Educational Seminar.
The seminar was a result of a memorandum of understanding signed
between UB's MCEER (formerly the Multidisciplinary Center for
Earthquake Engineering Research) and UniQ to bring MCEER's
earthquake engineering expertise to the professional and student
engineering communities in Haiti so they can learn fundamental
earthquake engineering principles needed to retrofit damaged
facilities and design new construction.
The response to this first seminar was overwhelming, the
"We expected between 60 and 70 attendees and we got 215," says
Andre Filiatrault, PhD, MCEER director and UB professor of civil,
structural and environmental engineering, who ran the seminar.
"The attitude of the engineers was extremely positive," he says.
"They realize that they need to become proficient in this type of
engineering and there is a thirst to learn."
Within eight days of the Jan. 12 earthquake, MCEER's Filiatrault
had assembled and deployed the first team of structural engineers
to Haiti to conduct building safety inspections at the request of
the United Nations. When the team returned to the U.S., they knew
more needed to be done.
The MCEER and UniQ partnership will extend for at least three
years, and is designed to help Haiti establish its own community of
earthquake engineers to mitigate earthquake-induced damage to its
buildings. Each seminar will provide credit toward a master's of
earthquake engineering degree that UniQ is developing with MCEER's
Because this first seminar proved so popular, the sponsors
divided the group into two, with Filiatrault teaching one half and
Pierre Fouché, a Haitian native and UB doctoral candidate in
earthquake engineering, teaching the other half. Sofia Tangalos,
MCEER education and outreach officer and information service
director, who had lived in Haiti as a child, provided on-site
The seminar was conducted completely in French.
"This is the best thing that we can do for Haiti," says
Filiatrault, "to start educating the architects and engineers about
the fundamental notions of earthquake engineering so that they can
avoid past mistakes."
After an introduction by Fouché regarding the seismology
and seismicity of Haiti, the seminar focused on principles of
earthquake-resistant design and on the ATC-20 (Applied Technical
Council) Rapid Building Assessment Methodology.
"A key advantage of the seminar was its emphasis on field
studies as well as classroom-type instruction," Filiatrault
During the seminar, all attendees participated in field
assessments of earthquake-damaged buildings in Port-au-Prince to
see first-hand the impacts of earthquakes on structures lacking the
necessary earthquake engineering detailing. They learned how to
conduct damage assessments on uninspected structures throughout
"We gave participants a firm grounding in the concepts of
earthquake engineering and some really practical information on how
to build better buildings even without making detailed
calculations," Filiatrault says. "We showed them the differences
between what makes a building safe or unsafe. When they begin to
apply even just those principles to their engineering and
architectural practices, it will make a tremendous difference."
In his presentation, Filiatrault used Chile's 1960 earthquake as
a parallel example.
"I wanted to highlight the fact that Haitian engineers are not
alone and that what they are going through has been experienced by
other countries," he says. "That 1960 earthquake in Chile caused
tremendous suffering and loss of life and it served as a turning
point where things started to change. In the same way, I told them,
the disaster that occurred on Jan. 12, 2010, can also bring a
change in paradigm for Haiti."
Subsequent seminars will focus on the specific calculations that
are required to construct safe buildings, a segment that is largely
missing from current engineering curricula in Haiti.
The next seminar will last for five days and will take place in
early September. Additional faculty from other U.S. engineering
schools will be involved.
"The goal is to develop with UniQ an earthquake engineering
curriculum, the first in Haiti and in the francophone region of the
West Indies, including the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe,"
notes MCEER's Tangalos. "There is much that needs to be learned not
just in the lack of building codes but also in the understanding of
the proper building materials and construction methods."
The MCEER-UniQ partnership will also develop longer-term
educational programs on seismic design of buildings with a focus on
adapted techniques for reconstruction, and promote academic
exchange and cooperation over the next three years.
Founded in 1988 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the University of
Quisqueya (UniQ) is a private institution composed of six academic
units: Agriculture and Environment, Management and Economics,
Engineering and Architecture, Law, Education and Health. Nearly
2,000 full-time students currently attend UniQ. Due to its
excellent reputation in the system of higher education in Haiti,
its undergraduate and master's degrees are recognized abroad.
Founded in 1986, MCEER, headquartered at the University at
Buffalo, is a national center of excellence in advanced technology
applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquakes and
other hazards, and to improving disaster resilience. One of three
such centers in the nation established by the National Science
Foundation, MCEER has been funded principally over the past two
decades with more than $67 million from NSF, more than $47 million
from the State of New York and more than $34 million from the
Federal Highway Administration. Additional support comes from the
Federal Emergency Management Agency, other state governments,
academic institutions, foreign governments and private
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.