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Lessons Learned: National Seminar created by NCSU CCEE Extension and University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ) builds on knowledge and collegial ties

On October 4, 2016 a technical seminar held in Quito, Ecuador focused on lessons learned from the devastating earthquake that ravaged parts of Ecuador earlier this year. The event was developed by NCSU Extension Specialist Roberto Nunez, in concert with the University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ). Three of the eight speakers featured in the day-long discussion have ties with the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering (CCEE). The events that led to the development of the seminar offer another set of ‘lessons learned’ and exemplify the importance of maintaining ties with colleagues and students across time and across international borders.

Dr. Fabricio Yepez
Dr. Fabricio Yepez

It was April 16th, 2016 when the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Ecuador. It left nearly 660 dead and caused an estimated $3.34 billion in damages. When Roberto Nunez, P.E., a Lecturer and Senior Construction Extension Specialist with CCEE, heard the news of the tragedy in his home country, he was attending an American Concrete Institute (ACI) convention in Milwaukee along with several CCEE students. Nunez’s extension experience and desire to help triggered formation of a coalition amongst conference attendees to facilitate information gathering and assist coordination of emergency response efforts. Dr. Fabricio Yepez, a friend of CCEE and now Vice-Dean of Engineering at the University San Francisco of Quito (USFQ) and a consultant to the Ecuadorian Ministry of Housing was also in attendance. Dr. Yepez works with one of Nunez’s past students and a CCEE alumnus, Dr. Juan Jose Recalde (CCEE PhD, 2010) who is a Principal Professor and Director of the Construction Materials Laboratory at USFQ. Dr. Yepez and Dr. Recalde also work alongside Dr. Vinicio Suarez, a private consultant in Ecuador, who also earned his PhD in 2009 in CCEE. These relationships have proven fruitful in helping Ecuadorians during and after the tragic events of April 2016.

Dr. Vinicio Suarez (L) and Dr. Juan Jose Recalde (R)

Upon Yepez’s return to Quito, he, Recalde and Suarez worked to quickly implement online training for first responder engineers performing on-site observations of affected infrastructure. They also helped coordinate international aid and technical support to Ecuador. As the urgent response efforts began to subside, Nunez urged his colleagues to help him organize a national seminar to share the knowledge gained from the investigation and reconstruction efforts. “We agreed that one of the requisites would be that all the speakers would be Ecuadorean. We wanted to show that the country is capable and has the resources to positively build upon the knowledge and experiences gained from such a tragic but potentially repeatable event,” Nunez relays.

The team coordinated a national seminar that drew 140 participants including government representatives, faculty, engineering professionals, contractors, scientists, and students. Topics covered included geology, vulnerability, soil-structure interaction, seismic risk, structural design and construction for seismic performance, structural evaluation of affected structures, repair and strengthening methodologies, and engineering and mitigation processes. Nunez spoke about implementing the new ACI 552-16 concrete repair code.

“It was a very humbling experience to learn about the current state of infrastructure in my home country. At the same time, I’m very proud of the competence and collaborative efforts of our Ecuadorian engineers and scientists. I am happy that NCSU was able to connect with USFQ in providing a highly technical event that informed local engineers about the risk associated with seismic events in regions of Ecuador, and set the stage for future collaborations between Eduador and NCSU-CCEE” Nunez relays.