Haitians rebuild Haiti

June 2013 » Columns » SEISMIC ZONE
H. Kit Miyamoto, S.E., Ph.D.
MTPTC-trained engineers, heading out into the field.

As the third anniversary of the 2010 Haiti earthquake passes, a milestone has been reached: Haiti's Ministry of Public Works (MTPTC), supported by Miyamoto International and various partners, have repaired and strengthened approximately 15,000 damaged households in the region surrounding Port-au-Prince. The repairs have affected more than 105,000 people and have been primarily built by trained Haitian small contractors.

The catastrophic earthquake displaced 1.5 million Haitians, according to The World Bank data (www.worldbank.org/en/country/haiti/overview), as their houses collapsed, cracked, or crumbled to rubble scattered on the streets. Aid then came in the form of tents that could provide shelter. However, much of the makeshift housing featured multicolored sheets draped over tin, plywood, and cardboard walls. "Tent cities" sprawled through expansive fields and were estimated to house over one million people.

Catherine Isaac was selling goods when the powerful earthquake struck. She recalls houses falling and people running. Her family survived, but their house did not.

"We had nothing left. All was destroyed," Isaac said. Her family moved to a massive tent camp where they went hungry.

"In the meantime, we waited." Not long after, engineers and masons repaired Isaac's home with new walls and a new ceiling. "They did the job, a good job," she said.

In March 2010, MTPTC, assisted by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), the World Bank and Miyamoto executed a strategy that would measure the quake's overall damage and create a plan for reconstruction, a lasting investment in Haiti. MTPTC and Miyamoto partnered to train Haitian engineers on damage assessments for more than 430,000 structures.

Miyamoto used the Applied Technology Council (ATC)-20 post-earthquake evaluation standard as a tool for damage assessment. ATC 20 was modified to fit the Haitian construction method. The assessment tool used GPS to record data and download information daily, so progress could be viewed in real time. Miyamoto then selected 260 MTPTC engineers to join them in the field for damage assessment.

The engineers were divided into 17 groups, each headed by a senior MTPTC engineer equipped with a preprogrammed personal digital assistant (PDA). A dozen Miyamoto engineers joined the groups to ensure quality control and provide onsite training. The effort was soon expanded by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The groups moved quickly through the affected communities to evaluate the houses, tagging each structure's safety level on the front of the house with a color code. Green tagging signaled the home had been inspected and was safe to reenter, yellow tagging identified unsafe but stable structures, and red tagging marked dangerous buildings.

Kit Miyamoto and the PADF, MTPTC team in Haiti.

Within the first year, the teams had completed assessing 430,000 buildings. The Haitian engineers insisted on working seven days a week, even arriving for work on Christmas day. Despite hurricanes and political protests, the MTPTC engineers were determined to return the displaced earthquake victims home quickly.

The assessments initiated the Yellow-House Repair Program, which to this date has fixed and reinforced 14,952 yellow tagged houses. The program allowed families who had been occupying dangerous yellow tagged buildings to live in a safer environment.

Under the massive repair program, Haitian masons and contractors executed complex seismic repairs automatically. Standard repair details were developed based on common damage patterns. PDA devices were utilized to provide quality control. The MTPTC, supported by Miyamoto and various partners, trained over 6,000 masons and 20 community contractors. At any given moment, over 1,000 masons were on the field under the supervision of MTPTC and Miyamoto. A two-year program repaired an unprecedented, approximately 15,000 households. This new methodology affected the construction quality of community construction outside of this program.

Haitian engineers marking the houses with the color codes.

Long-term housing is imperative to transforming Haiti. The security provided by permanent housing sets the foundation for growing services in health and education.

"Here at the Ministry, we are working toward creating a stock of buildings that 15 to 20 years from now can resist future earthquakes," said Alfred Piard, director of the MTPTC.

The inadequate, pre-2010 building construction methods added to the region's destruction and suffering during the 2010 earthquake. Before the earthquake, most Haitians lived in unreinforced buildings made from brick and concrete. No enforced guideline of a national building safety code existed in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake, according to the Organization of American States: Department of Sustainable Development (www.oas.org/dsd/Nat-Dis-Proj/HBSD.htm).

"Before the earthquake, there was very little supervision of the construction being done," said Daniel O'Neil, former Regional Director for the Pan American Development Foundation. "So when the earthquake hit, it wasn't the earthquake that killed people, it was the construction."

A solid groundwork has been laid for better building practices and economic growth through the training of over 6,000 masons and 600 engineers. All of Miyamoto's programs in the region have been led by the Haitian commercial sector, small businesses, and the MTPTC.

A video detailing the Haiti reconstruction process can be accessed at www.miyamotointernational.com/media/video-library1/haitians-rebuild-haiti-105000-people-impacted/

"It is so critical to provide sustainable economic development in Haiti," said Guilaine Victor, Miyamoto program manager. "It was an unprecedented disaster, but this could be a turning point for people in Haiti, and I am so honored to be a small part of this effort."

The drive to provide safe and permanent housing for the Haitian people continues to push forward improvements in the construction and repairs being made by the engineers, contractors and builders. Hitting the three-year mark is a reminder to look at how far this effort has come, and how much remains to be done. The next step for Miyamoto will be to tackle the repair or rebuilding of the 40,000 heavily damaged red tagged buildings, rebuilding schools and training thousands more engineers and masons in Haiti.

H. Kit Miyamoto S.E., PhD. is the CEO for Miyamoto International, a California seismic safety commissioner and a governing board member for Global Earthquake Model. Contact him at kmiyamoto@miyamotointernational.com.

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