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Haiti’s engineers begin seismic design and construction

From left: Pierre Fouché, UB graduate student in earthquake engineering; Sofia Tangalos, MCEER director of education and outreach and programs in Haiti, Jean-Richard Elie-Pierre, a seminar participant and owner of a Haitian architectural firm, and André Filiatrault, MCEER director and UB professor display a teaching tool used at the May seminar in Haiti. The tool uses steel bar rods of different lengths to demonstrate how buildings of different heights have different natural frequencies. Photo: MCEER

  • “The attitude of the engineers and architects in Haiti is extremely positive. They realize that engineering practice in Haiti must change and they are eager to get this change underway as soon as possible”

    André Filiatrault
    MCEER director and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering
By ELLEN GOLDBAUM
Published: July 21, 2010

Before the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti's engineers and architects had received little, if any, formal training in seismic design and construction principles. Haitian universities didn't offer any courses or programs that were dedicated to earthquake engineering.

Six months after the disaster, as the result of a partnership between the Université Quisqueya (UniQ) and the University at Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), approximately 200 Haitian engineers and architects will begin a new chapter in their professional lives, learning to incorporate seismic design into their work.

On Sept. 5-9, they will attend the Second Earthquake Engineering Seminar at the UniQ campus in Port-au-Prince, jointly sponsored by UniQ and MCEER; it follows up on the first one held in May and, due to popular demand, will repeat introductory lessons and include advanced training.

“The attitude of the engineers and architects in Haiti is extremely positive,” says André Filiatrault, MCEER director and UB professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, who is directing the September seminar; he also directed the first seminar that was held at UniQ in May. “They realize that engineering practice in Haiti must change and they are eager to get this change underway as soon as possible.”

The goal of UniQ and MCEER is for attendees to receive academic credit for the work they are doing at these seminars, according to Sofia Tangalos, MCEER’s education and outreach officer, who recently was named MCEER director of education programs in Haiti. MCEER is working with UniQ to develop a professional master's degree in earthquake engineering that could be enrolling students as early as fall of 2011, Tangalos says.

“The September seminar curriculum follows the International Building Code standards, which is the most widely adopted building code globally,” she says.

Because so much construction in Haiti is in concrete, instruction also will be provided on concrete building design, following the American Concrete Institute standards, she adds.

It will feature fieldwork with a Haitian mason, who will demonstrate how to build a confined masonry structure, a widely accepted, economical approach to construction in areas of high seismic risk in which unreinforced masonry walls are confined by reinforced concrete frames.

The September seminar will include two tracks, an ”Introduction to Earthquake Engineering and Post-Earthquake Building Assessment“ and a more advanced program on ”Seismic Design Load Calculations and the Seismic Design of Concrete and Masonry Buildings.”

The seminar will cover the seismicity of Haiti, earthquake-resistant design principles and International Building Code standards. The U.S. Geological Survey has provided support to MCEER by sharing their newly developed seismic hazard maps for all of Haiti that are compatible with the IBC seismic provisions.

In addition to Filiatrault, instructors will include UB doctoral candidate in earthquake engineering and Haitian native Pierre Fouché and Wassim Ghannoum, assistant professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering. All instruction will be in French, as was the case for the May seminar.

The seminars are the result of a three-year memorandum of understanding between UB’s MCEER and UniQ to bring MCEER’s earthquake engineering expertise to Haiti. The partnership grew out of MCEER’s role in assembling and deploying the first team of structural engineers to Haiti just days after the earthquake to conduct building safety inspections at the request of the United Nations. It will focus on the immediate needs of the engineering and architectural communities in Haiti as well as on developing longer-term programs to ensure the seismic design of buildings in Haiti and other francophone countries.

For more information on the September seminar and to register, click here