BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The powerful aftershock that hit the already
devastated city of Port au Prince on Jan. 20 has only intensified
Haiti's need for French-speaking structural engineers who can
immediately determine which of the structures left standing may
still pose a threat to human safety.
One of the first such missions has now begun, led by Andre
Filiatrault, PhD, University at Buffalo professor of civil,
structural and environmental engineering and director of the
Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research
(MCEER), headquartered at UB. Filiatrault is working in partnership
with Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG), a
national organization that helps provide developing countries with
affordable renewable energy, sanitation and clean water.
Filiatrault is leaving the U.S. today (Jan. 21) with a team of
10 architects and engineers from U.S. educational institutions and
private engineering firms. Their mission is to determine which of
Haiti's most critical structures -- particularly its hospitals and
ports -- are safe to enter, and which pose a danger.
"We are going to Haiti at a time when the need for skilled,
French-speaking engineers is dire," says Filiatrault. "A key piece
of the recovery process depends on assessing the physical safety of
Filiatrault notes that while MCEER has conducted numerous
reconnaissance missions since its inception in 1986, this
AIDG-MCEER Haiti Earthquake Engineering Relief Mission is the first
direct relief mission in which MCEER has been involved; MCEER's
primary focus is conducting multidisciplinary, multi-hazard
research and education.
"The sole purpose of these missions is humanitarian, to ensure
the safety and welfare of Haitian citizens," he says. "We are
taking the knowledge of earthquake engineers at MCEER, UB and in
the engineering profession at large, and applying it at a time when
it is most urgently needed."
On Jan. 15, Filiatrault and his colleagues began an intensive
effort to identify and screen French-speaking civil and structural
engineers willing to travel to Haiti in the coming days and weeks
to perform inspections of key buildings.
After reaching out to more than 3,000 MCEER constituents in the
U.S. and Canada earthquake engineering community, Filiatrault and
MCEER colleagues received an overwhelming response; more than 150
French-speaking engineers were willing and able to go.
Over the weekend, MCEER and AIDG put together the initial team;
of its 10 members, at least three are native Haitian engineers, who
also speak Creole, the official language of Haiti.
Travel arrangements are being coordinated by MCEER and UB staff
working with AIDG, the United Nations Development Programme, Food
for Health and other international relief agencies working in
Additional teams may depart in the coming weeks as well.
Once in Haiti, the engineers will provide recommendations for
tagging buildings as either safe or unsafe, according to the
tagging methodology that follows the U.S.-based Applied Technical
Council's ATC-20 Post-Earthquake Safety Evaluation of
Filiatrault said that in the U.S. such inspections are typically
performed by government agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of
MCEER has translated into French the signage that team members
will take with them to Haiti, signage that describes whether or not
a building is safe to enter.
"In Haiti, the damage the country has sustained to its
infrastructure and to its population is so extensive that it is
largely up to the international community to conduct these
inspections," he says. "Once we have assessed the safety of the
most critical structures, then those facilities that are deemed
safe can be fully utilized for relief efforts, in particular
hospitals, food storage and distribution centers and ports."
He says that Haiti's ports -- which sustained major damage --
are particularly critical to the nation's economic recovery. A
pioneering experiment on the ability of port container cranes to
withstand damage from earthquakes was conducted recently in UB's
Structural Engineering and Earthquake Simulation Laboratory by
Reginald DesRoches of Georgia Tech, one of the AIDG-MCEER team
members traveling to Haiti.
MCEER has provided each team member with information on
preparing post-disaster reconnaissance kits, which must include
supplies of water and water purification tablets, steel-toe shoes,
dust masks, sleeping bags and first aid kits, among many other
items. The center also is providing each team member with
information on safety, health and security concerns.
"We are extraordinarily sensitive to the fact that we are going
into a situation where people are desperate," says Filiatrault.
"Our purpose is to provide the country with our expertise as
efficiently as we can so that Haiti's recovery effort can proceed
as rapidly as possible."
Donations for this mission are being accepted through MCEER's
Web site at http://mceer.buffalo.edu.
Founded in 1986, MCEER, the Multidisciplinary Center for
Earthquake Engineering Research, headquartered at the University at
Buffalo, is a national center of excellence in advanced technology
applications dedicated to reducing losses from earthquake and other
hazards nationwide. 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 industry.
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.