Yes, Revenue and Profit, but also Humanitarianism

H. Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., S.E.

The room is small and dark. I came in from the mid-day sun and my eyes take some time to adjust. I smell a mixture of urine and cooking beans. On the bed, which dominates most of the space in this small family dwelling, a physically disabled boy shakes uncontrollably. His mother explains to me in her broken English how difficult and expensive it is to get glaucoma medicine for her son. I can see one of his eyes has no sight. She explains to me how much the earthquake tremors scare them. I look at the crudely built, heavy masonry walls around them. This place is not far from the where an M7.7 earthquake in 1875 flattened the whole area.

I am near Guadalajara, Mexico. This settlement is called an “irregular community” by locals. The area is inhabited by indigenous people who mainly live in makeshift, unreinforced masonry houses. It is one of the most dangerous building types around in the event of an earthquake. More than 50 percent of earthquake deaths in the past 30 years have been caused by this type of structure.

A powerful woman with humble traditional garb in her mid-40s comes in and asks our team to examine nearby construction. We follow her on foot through small, winding roads, leading to a three-story building. It is a half-built mess. We literally climb onto the roof to meet the contractor. He welcomes us with a large friendly smile and shakes my hand with an oversized, rugged hand. He proudly asks what I think of the construction. I look around and simply tell him: “This is probably worse than anything I’ve seen. The materials are even worse than what I saw in Haiti, where this type of construction killed more than 300,000 people back in the 2010 earthquake.”

I know it is blunt, but I cannot sugarcoat this one. The contractor’s big smile turns to anger. I start to explain about rebar size and he interrupts. He says in rapid Spanish: “Ok, I understand. If you are so smart, why don’t you teach us to do it right? I don’t need your money; I need your knowledge.”

Forty-eight hours earlier, I was standing in front of 300 engineering executives on a Las Vegas stage. My talk was about how to build a purpose-driven business and, at that same time, elevate the industry as a whole. My core message was to utilize our well-organized, high-performance companies to also impact people who are less fortunate. As a business, making profit and growing revenue is a minimum requirement, but we can do so much more than that if we want to. It was a fantastic event and many committed money and time for others. It’s a truly great industry we are in.

Back in that dusty settlement in Guadalajara, I say to the woman and contractor: “We would like to organize masonry training sessions here. I know there are plenty of talented engineers and companies here who deeply care about others. I think there are ways to connect all these dots.” They mentioned to me that the mayor of this district visited here a few week ago, so I know there is a political interest to make it better for irregular settlements.

I believe the AEC industry can change lives, rich and poor. I know that organizations can do a lot for humanity. For more information on how you can help, please visit Miyamoto Relief.


H. Kit Miyamoto, Ph.D., S.E., is the CEO and a structural engineer for Miyamoto International (http://miyamotointernational.com), a California seismic safety commissioner, and president of the technical nonprofit Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief. He specializes in high-performance earthquake engineering and disaster mitigation, response, and reconstruction.

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