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UT Engineer To Lead Team Mapping Haiti Destruction

To minimize personal injury and structural damage from future earthquakes, detailed mapping and surveying of Haiti’s damaged areas will begin Jan. 30 with a team of engineers and scientists led by Dr. Ellen Rathje, civil engineering professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

To develop safer, future engineering design procedures, the seven-person team will spend an intensive week documenting the effects of the Magnitude 7.0 earthquake.  Their efforts are sponsored by the Geo-engineering Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association which is supported by the National Science Foundation.

“The Haiti earthquake represents a common earthquake scenario in the United States and throughout the world,” says Rathje.  “It will be important to understand how soil and other geologic conditions influenced the damage patterns across the city.”

This earthquake generated liquefaction and lateral spreading along the coastline and severely affected critical facilities, such as the port, she says.  Given the difficulty of laboratory replication of soil deposits built by nature over thousands of years, these field observations obtained immediately following the earthquake will preserve perishable data necessary for future models. 

Also participating in the investigation are Jeff Bachhuber of Fugro/William Lettis and Associates, Dr. Brady Cox of the University of Arkansas, Jim French of AMEC/Geomatrix, Dr. Russell Green of Virginia Technical Institute, Dr. Scott Olson of the University of Illinois, Dr. Glenn Rix of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Oscar Suncar of The University of Texas at Austin, and Donald Wells of AMEC/Geomatrix.  The GEER team focuses on documenting geotechnical effects of extreme events as part of the U.S. National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program.

They will work with teams organized by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, U.S. Geological Survey, American Society of Civil Engineers Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center, and others.

Rathje holds the J. Neils Thompson Centennial Teaching Fellowship in Civil Engineering which was established by the W.S. Bellows Construction Company.

Ellen Rathje in the field

Ellen Rathje tests her equipment as she prepares to leave for Haiti to map damage and minimize future injury.

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