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The Aftermath of the Haiti 7.0 Quake

August 9, 2010

I recall sitting in Dr. Jay Puckett’s Structural Dynamics graduate class at the University of Wyoming during the 1995 – ’96 school year when he presented photographs from the Northridge Earthquake. I was in awe of the devastation that an earthquake brings to an area. Little did I know that fifteen years later, I would be heading to assist in the evaluation of buildings that withstood an earthquake.

Six years ago, I was asked by a good friend if I would be willing to donate my structural engineering services to aid in the design of a new community health center in Thomassin, Haiti. Like so many other design professionals, I was happy to offer up my time towards such a worthwhile opportunity. The health center was funded by the Functional Literacy Ministry and the Building Goodness Foundation, a Charlottesville, Virginia based non-profit that works with communities across the world to construct projects designed to build community and improve lives.

In January 2010, I was devastated to hear about the loss of life of so many people in Haiti. When I received the call from the Building Goodness Foundation asking for an engineer to head to Haiti to assist in the evaluation of some of their past projects, I offered up my services.

Upon landing in Port-au-Prince, the devastation was all around. Tent villages were abundant and nongovernmental agencies (NGO’s) were everywhere. As we left Port-au-Prince and went up into the mountainside communities, fewer NGOs were present, but the devastation was still around us.

At the site of the House of David Community Health Center, we were pleased with the condition of the building. There were no apparent deficiencies in the structure. The evaluation of the structure was only one of the goals of the trip.

Other goals included the installation and testing of a generator for power to the health center, surveying the adjacent lot for a future building, evaluation of projects on an as-needed basis, and the reconnaissance of building materials and building construction practices. During my visit to Haiti, I evaluated the condition of a school, a church, and a home of a Canadian missionary and provided recommendations for the necessary repairs to the structures.

  Typical construction for most Haitian buildings involves concrete columns, slabs, and roof. Exterior walls are typically unreinforced masonry. A majority of the structures have column rebar protruding through the roof for future additions. During our trip, very few structures were observed to be constructed of wood or wide flange steel shapes. Common failures of buildings involved failure of concrete reinforcement, inadequate shear walls, and failure to provide a continuous load path in structures.

Several projects are planned for Haiti with the assistance of the Building Goodness Foundation. Based on recent conversations, the empty lot next to the House of David Health Center may be developed into a trade school. This would provide career training for both men and women. By using the failed buildings as a teaching tool, better practices will be developed and incorporated into the new construction.

By reviewing the buildings, we were able to give comfort and security to the users of the buildings. During our visit, several people were still sleeping out in the streets because they were scared of being in their house during an earthquake. Every person we talked to had a story of where they were when the earthquake occurred and the friends and family that they lost. “It was amazing seeing how Haitians picked themselves up and were already starting the process of rebuilding a little less than a month later.”

This article was submitted by Brian Koerner, PE, cofounder and co-owner of Engineering Solutions & Construction Management, PLC, a multi-discipline engineering firm located in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He graduated in 2000, from UW with an M.S. in civil engineering. For additional information on upcoming trips for Building Goodness Foundation, please visit their website at

Photos courtesy of Brian Koerner


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