BUFFALO, N.Y. — Like most doctoral candidates, University at Buffalo (UB) student and Haitian native Pierre Fouché is a study in focus and determination and, if anything, the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that struck his home country only intensified these traits.
As originally planned, Fouché, who came to UB for his master’s degree in 2006 on a Fulbright scholarship, will defend his dissertation this summer; it describes a new technique he helped develop that can better protect bridges from damage caused by earthquakes and explosions, either malevolent or accidental.
But since last January, Fouché also has been intimately involved in an effort to transfer to his peers in Haiti the knowledge he is gaining at UB.
In September and May, he was one of the instructors in a team organized by UB’s internationally renowned MCEER, Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, which is partnering with Quisqueya University (UniQ) in Port-au-Prince to teach engineers and architects in Haiti how to incorporate seismic design into their work.
Fouché will again be one of the instructors in the third seminar planned for March, as will André Filiatrault, PhD, MCEER’s director, UB professor of civil engineering and one of the world’s leading earthquake engineers. Information on the March seminar is at http://mceer.buffalo.edu/education/UniQ/registration/default_EN.asp.
When the earthquake struck, Fouché said, it was the first time in many generations that Haiti had had an earthquake, and Haitian engineers and architects were not trained to design and build structures against this type of hazard.
"By providing this type of training, we are empowering Haiti’s engineers and architects by helping them understand how earthquakes affect construction and how to build and preserve new construction against such occurrences," he said. "There is a willingness to learn. These professionals are open to this new type of knowledge; they truly seem committed to build differently. Our best course of action is to continue to empower them, by giving them the tools and skills they need to be effective when the reconstruction process does start."
According to Fouché, the reconstruction process will take 3-5 years to truly take off and make an impact, if any, and so far, it has been hampered by the lack of resources, a result, he says, of the fact that many pledges of financial support have yet to materialize.
"Some observers will think, ‘we gave money and they did nothing’ but Haiti has been through this before," said Fouché, noting that Haiti has, in past disasters, received pledges of support that have remained unfulfilled.
For now, he is very much encouraged by the response of the Haitian engineers and architects who have attended the MCEER-UniQ seminars. So far, approximately 350 have attended, some of them traveling long distances to get to Port-au-Prince where the seminars are held and many returning for the more advanced sessions, underscoring their thirst for knowledge about how to prevent another disaster like the one that happened last January.
As Adajah Codio, one of the seminar attendees, and a friend and former student of Fouché’s put it: "Haiti is in a seismic area. We can’t move the country to another place. These seminars are teaching me that the most important thing we can do is to reduce our vulnerability by designing our buildings the proper way."