Engineers to assess soundness of homes in Haiti
By Linda Espenshade for MCC
Three structural engineers will be traveling to Haiti January 23 on behalf of
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). They will spend from one to four weeks in the country, examining houses and other buildings to determine if they are in danger of collapse or if they are safe for occupation. Currently many Haitians are sleeping on the streets or in open areas because they don’t feel safe in their homes.
“People are scared to go back in their buildings without someone looking at them to be sure they are sound,” says Ron Flaming, director of international programs for MCC.
Leading the engineering team for MCC is Johann Zimmermann, a licensed structural engineer from Harrisonburg, Va., who served with MCC in Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Nicaragua. He attends Community Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg. He will be joined by Peter Pereverzoff of Rochester, N.Y., and Marcus Schiere, from the Netherlands. Zimmermann, who is self employed and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, says he was motivated to go to Haiti as he thought about the safety of the people. From his personal experience of living through an earthquake in Central America, he understands the uncertainty that survivors feel.
“You’re afraid. Am I safe or not?” says Zimmermann, explaining the uncertainty. “It’s really anxiety producing. If you have children, you are worried about them more than you are about yourself.”
In Haiti, Zimmermann hopes to work alongside Haitian builders because they are the ones most familiar with the local building techniques. He would like to teach them how to assess the structural soundness of buildings, so the work can continue after he and the other engineers are gone.
The engineers’ task involves a significant element of judgment and probability, Zimmermann says. They will look at the way cracks in houses were formed to determine if they are only aesthetic or if the house is in danger of falling down.
In anticipation of sending a second crew of structural engineers, MCC is inviting people who would be willing to volunteer for two to four weeks to send an e-mail to Jan Siemens in human resources.
In addition to engineers, MCC is recruiting a disaster coordinator to lead MCC’s earthquake relief and rebuilding efforts over the next three to five years in Haiti.