Month at a glance
  • Senior capstone leader Dan Rish proudly promoted E2E at the Indiana North Central ASCE Meeting
  • Senior capstone leader Erik Jensen presented “Sustainable Housing in Post-Earthquake Haiti” at  2014 Human Development Conference
  • E2E Innovation Incubator featured in Free Press Article by Christine Parrish
  • Follow Up Editorial by Dustin Mix featured in Free Press 
  • E2E becomes endorsing partner of 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC Davos 2014

 
Home > Project Updates > February 2014 Feature Story

February 2014 Feature Story

Achieving Seismic Resiliency beyond Haiti

Figure 1: Typical Home in Quito

In addition to seeking sustainable housing alternatives to be implemented in Haiti, Engineering2Empower understands that the 2010 Haitian earthquake provided a tragically clear warning that seismic events present a large and growing threat to urban populations in underdeveloped regions of the world.  In the years following the Haitian earthquake, exploratory research performed in Haiti by the E2E team illustrated that the vast majority of fatalities were a direct result of catastrophic collapses of single-family homes. Further analysis attributed these collapses to a housing model plagued with crucial design flaws and poor construction practices. Most importantly, E2E has found that the shortcomings of the Haitian housing model were not caused by mere ignorance that can be easily corrected by improved building codes, but rather by economic and political circumstances that have failed to provide the low-income housing sector with the technology, resources, and engineering leadership necessary to build seismically resilient structures. For the E2E team, this realization presented a new research question requiring urgent attention. If economic inequality and political corruption caused a moderately sized earthquake to take the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, how many cities around the world are silently and unknowingly waiting to share Haiti’s fate? To address this question, E2E launched an initiative tasked with assessing the state of low-income housing in regions of the world that possess seismic risk and large poor populations.

In the first phase of this initiative, I spent eight weeks in Quito, Ecuador, developing and implementing a framework for evaluating the seismic resiliency of existing homes in the city. Quito was chosen as the launching point for this exploratory research because it possesses both large earthquake potential and a growing population living in extreme poverty. Quito has not been excluded from the urbanization trends experienced throughout South America in recent decades, and as the amount of available space has become incredibly limited, overcrowded, slum-like neighborhoods have become the primary destination for families moving to Quito in search of a better life. E2E has focused its attention on cities that have a growing presence of slums, because homes in these types of neighborhoods tend to be built privately with unskilled labor, increasing the likelihood of improper construction practices. For this reason, I travelled to Quito in the summer of 2013 to determine if the same design and construction flaws that exist in Haitian cities are also present in Quito.

Ultimately, E2E hopes to develop a housing assessment strategy that local people can conduct on their own homes, determining if their homes are safe and what improvements need to be made. My efforts in Quito, therefore, focused on creating a simplified evaluation process that does not require extensive engineering knowledge. To achieve this end, housing assessment forms were created which allow the field researcher to perform a complete home evaluation with nothing more than a tape measure and a camera. This strategy for assessment walks the surveyor through every important component of a home – columns and beams, walls, roofing system, etc. – and guides him in obtaining measurements that are necessary to determine a structure’s seismic resiliency. For example, to properly analyze columns, information is needed regarding the size and height of the column, along with the size, type, and prevalence of reinforcing steel inside the column. The housing assessment form specifically calls for each of these measurements, ensuring that even an inexperienced surveyor attains all the necessary information. Through these housing assessment forms, preliminary conclusions can be drawn regarding the adequacy of these structures, whereas this information can be also used for a more detailed evaluation by creating structural models and analyzing their seismic resiliency.

My first four weeks in Quito were spent completing these housing assessments in Quito’s poor neighborhoods. Typically, a full assessment of a home would take approximately thirty minutes, excluding time spent conversing with homeowners and members of the community. The people of Quito were incredibly welcoming, and for me, the non-engineering lessons I learned through my time with them will always outweigh the engineering knowledge gained. The housing assessment forms, however, succeeded in identifying housing trends existing within Quito’s low-income neighborhoods. The analysis of approximately 50 homes over the course of four weeks revealed a predominant housing model that failed to provide adequate earthquake protection. Almost every home in Quito’s poor areas possessed walls made from stacked concrete masonry units (CMU). Most often, these CMU walls were contained by concrete corner columns. Numerous homes were observed, however, in which columns were completely absent. Figure 1, below, provides an example of the most frequently observed column and wall configuration.

As can be seen, the column abruptly stops at the top of the structure, and columns are not connected to each other through beams. While a connecting beam would create a frame system that allows the columns to collectively transfer loads, the isolated columns cannot adequately absorb the lateral loads caused by earthquakes. During an earthquake, therefore, the CMU walls would be subjected to a portion of the lateral force. CMU blocks do not possess sufficient strength to transfer these forces, and a seismic event would cause diagonal cracking in the walls that would lead to complete collapse. This is the exact collapse sequence that was seen in Haiti, where the dangers associated with CMU construction were revealed. In addition to design omissions, construction practices in Quito fail to reach the level of quality control necessary to maximize structure performance during an earthquake. Concrete for columns and the foundation is produced on the ground, without proper proportioning or complete mixing. The results, as shown in Figure 2, are concrete members with imperfections that cause significant strength variation. 

Figure 2: Consequences of Improper Concrete Mixing

The shortcomings regarding home design and construction methods observed in Quito strongly suggest that Quito’s low-income neighborhoods are seriously unprepared for a seismic event and are in desperate need of retrofit options that provide enhancements necessary to withstand a large earthquake. This effort, however, requires research that spans far beyond the field of civil engineering. In order to develop housing solutions in Quito, the social, economic, and cultural context must be thoroughly understood to ensure that any potential solutions fall within the capacity of construction workers and the desires of the local people. For this reason, the second half of my research project focused on uncovering the hidden factors that have caused construction practices in Quito to lag behind those in the developing world. Analysis of these findings provides the foundation for the path towards feasible and sustainable solutions. Three primary conclusions were drawn from interviews, surveys, and construction site observation geared towards understanding the economic and social obstacles that solutions must maneuver. Firstly, families in Quito’s poor neighborhoods do not possess the financial capacity to hire formal, skilled construction crews. Rather, families build homes themselves, with the help of neighbors and friends. Solutions, therefore, must utilize simple construction techniques that unskilled labor can perform. Secondly, those performing home construction understand the basics of concrete mixing, but do not have access to the resources necessary to perform mixing with adequate quality control. Since concrete is the most cost effective building material in Quito, retrofit options must rely on concrete, but must improve access to concrete mixers and proper measurement devices. These resources would dramatically improve the quality of concrete production in Quito. Finally, the people of Quito appreciate the threat earthquakes present in their city and generally do not trust their homes to withstand a seismic event. If simple and affordable retrofit options are presented to the people of Quito, there is significant reason to believe that these services would be competitive in the open market. As can be seen, the column abruptly stops at the top of the structure, and columns are not connected to each other through beams. While a connecting beam would create a frame system that allows the columns to collectively transfer loads, the isolated columns cannot adequately absorb the lateral loads caused by earthquakes. During an earthquake, therefore, the CMU walls would be subjected to a portion of the lateral force. CMU blocks do not possess sufficient strength to transfer these forces, and a seismic event would cause diagonal cracking in the walls that would lead to complete collapse. This is the exact collapse sequence that was seen in Haiti, where the dangers associated with CMU construction were revealed. In addition to design omissions, construction practices in Quito fail to reach the level of quality control necessary to maximize structure performance during an earthquake. Concrete for columns and the foundation is produced on the ground, without proper proportioning or complete mixing. The results, as shown in Figure 2, are concrete members with imperfections that cause significant strength variation.

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti illustrated to the world the immense cost of ignoring the vulnerabilities that exist within housing models utilized by the world’s poor. In Quito, the lives of thousands of local people are threatened every day by the possibility of a seismic event for which their homes are not capable of withstanding. While the engineering knowledge and construction resources necessary to build seismically resilient structures exist today, the benefits of these advancements in engineering have not been felt by populations at the bottom of the economic pyramid. To provide these solutions throughout seismically active regions, strategies for implementation must be developed that consider the construction capacity, financial constraints, and cultural preferences that influence housing decisions among poor populations. While this is a massive undertaking, it must begin somewhere, and it must begin now. It is my hope that my research in Quito provides a launching point for a global effort to significantly reduce and potentially eliminate the threats associated with natural disasters.

Kevin Fink, ND Class '14

About author

Kevin Fink is a senior at the University of Notre Dame and the coordinator of Engineering2Empower’s undergraduate operations. Originally from Milwaukee, Kevin believes that improving seismic resiliency in megacities is one of the greatest and most pressing challenges facing South and Central America in the 21st century. 

Updates from Innovation Incubator in Haiti

February brought with it the first innovation incubator activities in Léogâne. E2E representatives Lamarre and Edson spearheaded the effort in the community of Ti Rivye, holding the first initial challenge for our incubator activity centered on creating culturally appropriate door and window details for the house. The challenge was to build a two-person bench in three hours with a smattering of unusual materials. It was a huge success and Harry Octave will represent Ti Rivye in the innovation incubator. Lamarre and Edson are currently preparing for the other two initial challenges in Ti Rivye, which will be held in March. Check out our Facebook page for photos!

Updates on Our First Home in Haiti

Construction ramped up in February on the E2E house, and as of the end of the month, we officially have a foundation! We had our first experience with paraskilling and standardization while creating the steel rebar cages for the foundation and columns. The construction crew did a great job listening and adapting their own practices to fit E2E’s model, while also teaching Dustin (and the ND students back on campus) a thing or two about speed and efficiency. Thanks to the Henn Family, our first standardized formwork set is currently being built and we can proudly say that it will be built with local materials and Haitian labor! Stay tuned on Facebook as March will be a huge month for the E2E house.

Updates on the Campus Prototype Capstone

The campus prototype capstone team has been working to finalize the designs and construction methods for the prototype, which will begin construction at the end of March. This has included many moving parts along with the fortitude of our enthusiastic group of undergraduates! Teams have begun bending and tying over 400 stirrups for the steel reinforcement cages (check out the pride and sweat on Facebook). Additionally, much progress has been made towards panel production, including the casting of several half-sized concrete panels, which has allowed the team to assess the quality of manually-cast panels as well as the capabilities of their formwork design.

E2E Endorses 5th IDRC Davos 2014

Involved or working in the field of Risk and Disaster Management? The Global Risk Forum GRF Davos invites you to submit an abstract for oral presentation, poster presentation, a session or a workshop on one of the conference topics. The 5th International Disaster and Risk Conference IDRC Davos 2014 will be held under the theme "Integrative Risk Management – Science, technology and implementation to strengthen the post 2015 framework" from 24 - 28 August 2014 in Davos, Switzerland. More information is available at http://idrc.info.

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