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TED Senior Fellows at TEDGlobal 2010

Peter Haas: When bad engineering makes a natural disaster even worse

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What did the world learn from the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010? That shoddy buildings and bad planning can make a terrible situation even worse. "Haiti was not a natural disaster," says TED Fellow Peter Haas. "It was a disaster of engineering." The solution: Help builders on the ground get trained in modern engineering practices, so they can rebuild their country stronger, brick by brick.

- Building activist
Inveterate tinkerer Peter Haas is the co-founder of AIDG, the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which connect people to electricity, sanitation and clean water through a combination of business incubation, education, and outreach. Full bio

I learned about the Haiti earthquake by Skype.
00:16
My wife sent me a message,
00:19
"Whoa, earthquake,"
00:22
and then disappeared for 25 minutes.
00:24
It was 25 minutes of absolute terror
00:28
that thousands of people across the U.S. felt.
00:31
I was afraid of a tsunami;
00:36
what I didn't realize
00:39
was there was a greater terror in Haiti,
00:41
and that was building collapse.
00:44
We've all seen the photos
00:47
of the collapsed buildings in Haiti.
00:49
These are shots my wife took
00:52
a couple days after the quake,
00:54
while I was making my way through the D.R. into the country.
00:56
This is the national palace --
01:00
the equivalent of the White House.
01:02
This is the largest supermarket in the Caribbean
01:05
at peak shopping time.
01:08
This is a nurses' college --
01:13
there are 300 nurses studying.
01:15
The general hospital right next door
01:19
emerged largely unscathed.
01:21
This is the Ministry of Economics and Finance.
01:24
We have all heard
01:30
about the tremendous human loss
01:32
in the earthquake in Haiti,
01:35
but we haven't heard enough
01:37
about why all those lives were lost.
01:40
We haven't heard about
01:43
why the buildings failed.
01:45
After all, it was the buildings,
01:48
not the earthquake,
01:50
that killed 220,000 people,
01:52
that injured 330,000,
01:55
that displaced 1.3 million people,
01:58
that cut off food
02:04
and water and supplies
02:06
for an entire nation.
02:08
This is the largest metropolitan-area disaster
02:11
in decades,
02:16
and it was not a natural disaster --
02:19
it was a disaster of engineering.
02:22
AIDG has worked in Haiti
02:25
since 2007,
02:27
providing engineering and business support
02:29
to small businesses.
02:31
And after the quake, we started bringing in earthquake engineers
02:33
to figure out why the buildings collapsed,
02:37
to examine what was safe and what wasn't.
02:39
Working with MINUSTAH,
02:42
which is the U.N. mission in Haiti,
02:45
with the Ministry of Public Works,
02:47
with different NGOs,
02:49
we inspected over 1,500 buildings.
02:51
We inspected schools
02:55
and private residencies.
02:57
We inspected medical centers
02:59
and food warehouses.
03:01
We inspected government buildings.
03:03
This is the Ministry of Justice.
03:05
Behind that door
03:07
is the National Judicial Archives.
03:09
The fellow in the door, Andre Filitrault --
03:12
who's the director
03:14
of the Center for Interdisciplinary Earthquake Engineering Research
03:16
at the University of Buffalo --
03:20
was examining it to see if it was safe
03:23
to recover the archives.
03:25
Andre told me,
03:27
after seeing these buildings fail
03:29
again and again in the same way,
03:31
that there is no new research here.
03:34
There is nothing here that we don't know.
03:37
The failure points were the same:
03:40
walls and slabs not tied properly into columns --
03:43
that's a roof slab hanging off the building --
03:46
cantilevered structures,
03:51
or structures that were asymmetric,
03:53
that shook violently and came down,
03:55
poor building materials,
03:59
not enough concrete,
04:01
not enough compression in the blocks,
04:03
rebar that was smooth,
04:07
rebar that was exposed to the weather and had rusted away.
04:09
Now there's a solution
04:12
to all these problems.
04:15
And we know how to build properly.
04:17
The proof of this came in Chile,
04:20
almost a month later,
04:23
when 8.8 magnitude earthquake
04:26
hit Chile.
04:30
That is 500 times
04:32
the power of the 7.0
04:34
that hit Port-au-Prince --
04:36
500 times the power,
04:39
yet only under a thousand casualties.
04:41
Adjusted for population density,
04:46
that is less than one percent
04:48
of the impact of the Haitian quake.
04:50
What was the difference
04:54
between Chile and Haiti?
04:56
Seismic standards
04:59
and confined masonry,
05:01
where the building acts as a whole --
05:04
walls and columns
05:06
and roofs and slabs
05:08
tied together to support each other --
05:10
instead of breaking off into separate members and failing.
05:13
If you look at this building in Chile,
05:18
it's ripped in half,
05:21
but it's not a pile of rubble.
05:23
Chileans have been building with confined masonry
05:27
for decades.
05:29
Right now, AIDG is working with KPFF Consulting Engineers,
05:32
Architecture for Humanity,
05:36
to bring more confined masonry training
05:38
into Haiti.
05:41
This is Xantus Daniel;
05:45
he's a mason,
05:47
just a general construction worker, not a foreman,
05:49
who took one of our trainings.
05:52
On his last job he was working with his boss,
05:54
and they started pouring the columns wrong.
05:57
He took his boss aside,
06:00
and he showed him the materials on confined masonry.
06:02
He showed him, "You know, we don't have to do this wrong.
06:05
It won't cost us any more
06:08
to do it the right way."
06:10
And they redid that building.
06:13
They tied the rebar right,
06:15
they poured the columns right,
06:17
and that building will be safe.
06:19
And every building
06:21
that they build going forward
06:23
will be safe.
06:25
To make sure these buildings are safe,
06:28
it's not going to take policy --
06:30
it's going to take reaching out
06:33
to the masons on the ground
06:35
and helping them learn the proper techniques.
06:38
Now there are many groups doing this.
06:43
And the fellow in the vest there,
06:45
Craig Toten,
06:47
he has pushed forward
06:49
to get documentation out to all the groups that are doing this.
06:51
Through Haiti Rewired,
06:55
through Build Change, Architecture for Humanity,
06:57
AIDG,
07:00
there is the possibility
07:02
to reach out
07:04
to 30,000 -- 40,000 masons
07:07
across the country
07:10
and create a movement of proper building.
07:12
If you reach out to the people on the ground
07:17
in this collaborative way
07:19
it's extremely affordable.
07:21
For the billions spent on reconstruction,
07:24
you can train masons
07:28
for dollars on every house
07:30
that they end up building over their lifetime.
07:32
Ultimately, there are two ways
07:37
that you can rebuild Haiti;
07:39
the way at the top
07:41
is the way that Haiti's been building for decades.
07:43
The way at the top
07:46
is a poorly constructed building
07:48
that will fail.
07:50
The way at the bottom is a confined masonry building,
07:52
where the walls are tied together,
07:55
the building is symmetric,
07:57
and it will stand up to an earthquake.
07:59
For all the disaster,
08:02
there is an opportunity here
08:04
to build better houses
08:07
for the next generation,
08:09
so that when the next earthquake hits,
08:11
it is a disaster --
08:14
but not a tragedy.
08:16
(Applause)
08:19

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About the speaker:

Peter Haas - Building activist
Inveterate tinkerer Peter Haas is the co-founder of AIDG, the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group, which connect people to electricity, sanitation and clean water through a combination of business incubation, education, and outreach.

Why you should listen

In 2005, Peter Haas co-founded AIDG -- the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group -- an organization helping individuals and communities get affordable and environmentally sound access to electricity, sanitation and clean water through a combination of business incubation, education, and outreach. (Also on the board: TED Best-of-the-Web star Cat Laine.) Since co-founding AIDG, Haas has become an active voice for poverty issues, speaking at the World Bank, Harvard, MIT and other forums on technology, entrepreneurship and SME finance. He was named a TEDGlobal Fellow in 2009 and is now part of the three-year TED Senior Fellows program.

Before founding AIDG, Haas worked both in the information technology field and on an organic farm and horse ranch doing infrastructure improvement work. He tinkers in water systems, electrical systems, electronic systems, masonry, plumbing, biogas, irrigation, welding, metal casting and sustainable building.

More profile about the speaker
Peter Haas | Speaker | TED.com