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UB Reaches Out to Haiti through Work of Earthquake Engineering Lab and University Relief Effort

Release Date: January 19, 2010

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Doctoral student Pierre Fouche is learning skills at UB that will help in the development of structures better able to withstand earthquakes back home in Haiti.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo's world-renowned earthquake engineering faculty, and the internationally diverse students who come here to train in this critical field, are always intensely interested in any earthquake that occurs. But for Pierre Fouche, who is working on his doctorate in earthquake engineering, the earthquake in Haiti had enormous personal significance. Fouche is Haitian and his family lives there.

Fouche is one of the very few Haitians who are acquiring the skills necessary to develop structures that can better withstand the forces of earthquakes. The knowledge he gains at UB will be very useful to Haiti as it rebuilds.

Earthquake engineers at UB and MCEER, the Multidisciplinary Center in Earthquake Engineering Research headquartered at UB, are working intensively to recruit French-speaking structural engineers to travel to Haiti on relief missions to ascertain the safety of structures that are still standing. The UB/MCEER engineers are working to organize these teams in the coming days and weeks under the sponsorship of AIDG, Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, a national organization that helps provide developing countries with affordable renewable energy, sanitation and clean water.

In response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti, UB has developed the UB Haiti Earthquake Relief Web site, at http://www.student-affairs.buffalo.edu/wecare, in an effort to help the people of the Caribbean island nation as they struggle to recover.

The Web site provides information about where donations are being accepted on campus and student events where donations will be accepted. The site also offers a link to the American Red Cross, which is accepting donations via text message.

Since determining that his family members in Haiti were safe, Fouche has been speaking with members of the media to help provide information about Haiti, its infrastructure and the profound challenges that lie ahead.

Unfortunately, Fouche says, he had expected an earthquake to occur in Haiti.

"Haiti is prone to earthquakes; we have recorded some major earthquake occurrences in the past," he says, noting that in 1771, a major event destroyed Port-au-Prince completely and another in 1842 killed about 10,000 people in his hometown (Cap-Haitian).

This history, coupled with the other natural disasters to which his country is prone, made Fouche want to study earthquake engineering and hazard engineering in general at UB. Funded by a Fulbright scholarship, Fouche came to UB in 2006 to get his master's degree in engineering, because he knew of UB's and MCEER's international reputation in the field.

Currently working toward his doctorate, Fouche is or has been funded by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean's Scholarship, the UB Presidential Fellowship and a UB Engineering scholarship.

"Here at UB, I have the privilege of learning how to design buildings to better withstand earthquakes and other natural and man-made disasters, such as tsunamis and terrorist attacks," he says.

Working under his doctoral advisor, Michel Bruneau, UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, through a Federal Highway Administration grant funding Bruneau's research, Fouche is learning about multi-hazard engineering, an approach championed by Bruneau and colleagues at UB and other institutions in the MCEER consortium.

Multi-hazard design aims to provide an integrated and cost-effective approach to addressing the numerous potential threats that can impact the built environment; it is a key focus of the UB 2020 strategic strength in Extreme Events and is part of MCEER's mission.

"Definitely, this type of design is the future," says Fouche, "to come up with integrated engineering solutions that perform well in every type of hazard, so that solutions can be both economical and structurally safe."

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.

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
Senior Editor, Medicine
Tel: 716-645-4605
goldbaum@buffalo.edu
Twitter: @egoldbaum