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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Students aiming to aid Haiti

A group of graduate researchers went to Haiti right after last year’s earthquake to assess the damage, and a group of undergraduate students are hoping to revisit the island to assess how to stem repetitions of the aftermath.

“”In the civilized world when there is an earthquake, a handful of people die,”” said Robert B. Fleischman, associate professor in the UA Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “”But when a place like Haiti has an earthquake, hundreds of thousands of people die, and millions of people are affected for the next decade.””

Fleischman aided graduate students in applying for a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Research grant right after the 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti in January of last year. Rutherford & Chekene, a San Francisco earthquake-engineering firm, also aided UA students in the project.

More than a quarter of a million people died in the immediate aftermath, and another 300,000 sustained injury, many due to buildings constructed of poorly reinforced materials.

The first graduate researchers documented damaged but intact Port-Au-Prince buildings. Creations of simulations of the buildings on computers are to be verified on their next visit, to create the freshest data set to aid Haitian rebuilding efforts.

“”It’s all the students. The graduate students are doing all of the work, building computer models of structures,”” Fleischman said. “”What we are trying to do is see how well the computer simulations are doing in Haiti, and we can go and look at actual failures,”” he said.

This kind of evaluation is critical to the construction of better buildings. But travel restrictions involving October’s cholera outbreak, beginning in the Artibonite Department of Haiti and claiming thousands of lives, as well as the return of Jean-Claude “”Baby Doc”” Duvalier from French exile, have delayed a return visit.

“”It’s unclear whether or not it’s going to be feasible,”” Fleischman said of their six to eight month goal to return to the island.

Fleischman is working with the student group Engineers Without Borders, which has been to places like Mali building wells and delivering water supplies and are now extending their efforts to Haiti.

“”I’m personally interested in trying to get funded research in this area (earthquake engineering) for the future,”” he said. The undergraduate project is in the developmental stages right now.

Their plans are to work with nongovernmental organizations and engineering firms in Haiti to build on the contacts forged in the UA’s first trip, such as mayors and community leaders. They are hoping to speak with communities and pick a place to work.

“”These things don’t work without the community buy-in,”” he said. “”You have to make sure you are meeting their needs and doing it in a culturally sensitive way.””

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