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One Year Later, Haiti's Engineers Are Acquiring Tools to Begin Rebuilding the Right Way

Hundreds learn new practices in seminars taught by UB's MCEER and UniQ

Release Date: January 10, 2011

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MCEER's Andre Filiatrault and colleagues are teaching Haitian engineers and architects about seismic mitigation in design and construction to help prevent damage to buildings in the event of future earthquakes in Haiti.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- As Haitian citizens struggle to achieve some normalcy a year after the devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, its structural engineers and architects are demonstrating an unwavering resolve to rebuild the country the right way, despite the daily challenges.

In seminars held in May and September in Port-au-Prince, some held in tents in 100-plus degree heat, they are learning from some of the world's leading earthquake engineers how to incorporate seismic design into their work.

Approximately 350 engineers and architects -- about 35 percent of all structural engineers and architects in Port-au-Prince -- have attended the seminars, organized by the University at Buffalo's MCEER (Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research), which is partnering with Quisqueya University (UniQ) in Haiti. The next seminar will take place in Port-au-Prince in March; more information is at http://mceer.buffalo.edu/education/UniQ/registration/default_EN.asp.

"The goal of the partnership and these seminars is to help Haiti establish its own community of earthquake engineers to mitigate damage to its buildings in the event of future earthquakes," says Andre Filiatrault, PhD, MCEER director and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Within eight days of the Jan. 12 earthquake, Filiatrault had assembled and deployed the first team of French-speaking 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: Haitian universities didn't offer any courses or programs dedicated to earthquake engineering. There also are no professional licensing requirements for practicing engineers in Haiti.

While the magnitude of the problems facing Haitian society cannot be overstated, Filiatrault says that there also is an urgency to educate as many of the country's engineers as possible about seismic mitigation in design and construction.

"Right now, there are requests for proposals going out to the Haitian engineering community to rebuild structures that were devastated in the earthquake," he says. "We are already seeing that the engineers who have taken our seminars are insisting that their firms' proposals adhere to the seismic mitigation principles they are learning."

Each seminar provides increasingly advanced training; the September session covered the seismicity of Haiti, earthquake-resistant design principles and the seismic design of reinforced concrete and confined-masonry buildings in Haiti inspired by the International Building Code.

In March, seminar topics will include post-earthquake building assessment, seismic design load calculations in Haiti and seismic design of buildings constructed with concrete, confined masonry and wood. A special program will discuss the required properties and quality control and assurance of materials used for the seismic design of buildings in Haiti, a "critical aspect of earthquake-resistant reconstruction in Haiti," says Filiatrault.

Filiatrault notes that the rebuilding of Haiti will require a massive overhaul of its engineering practices.

"The country's engineering sector needs many things: building codes, licensing and examination procedures, more comprehensive engineering curricula, all of which are critical to the rebuilding of Haiti," he says. "This partnership between MCEER and UniQ provides an important piece."

In addition to Filiatrault, instructors for the March seminar will include UB doctoral candidate in earthquake engineering and Haitian native Pierre Fouché, Wassim Ghannoum, PhD, assistant professor in the University of Texas at Austin's Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and J. Eric Karsh, MEng, PEng, principal, Equilibrium Consulting Inc, Vancouver, Canada. All instruction is in French.

The UniQ-MCEER partnership reflects UB's strategic strength in mitigation and response to extreme events that has been identified in the UB 2020 strategic plan for academic, research and service excellence.

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.

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