UB professor takes note of lessons from Nepal disaster

Aug 24, 2015

The people of Nepal are still recovering from the April earthquake which claimed thousands of lives and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Other harsh realities were unearthed. "There were a lot of bad construction practices," said UB's Andreas Stavridis, who toured Nepal in June.


UB's Andreas Stavridis recently traveled to Nepal
Credit Photo courtesy of UB

An assistant professor of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Stavridis traveled 30 hours to learn firsthand the tough lessons that disasters reveal.  

"We realized the design of the buildings is not done with standards that we have in the rest of the world."

Instead, Stavridis says that builders follow "'rules of thumb.' They hire a contractor who can do whatever they want for buildings up to two stories."

The devastation has prompted the government and several NGO's to push for increased standards as the country begins to rebuild.

"But there's also a lot resistance from the local community because they don't have the means, they don't have the money to spend to build, to hire an engineer to inspect their buildings," Stavridis said.

"There's also a sense of Divine Intervention. So, they (the people of Nepal) think God punished us.....so the earthquake was God's will."

Stavridis joined researchers from Oregon State, Rome and Portugal in reviewing the situation in a tour funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Though the language barrier presented obvious obstacles, connections were made with the people of Nepal.

"They're very friendly. I was surprised by how welcoming they were. When they realized we were engineers from a foreign country....they actually asked us to go inside their houses to inspect them and hoping we'd go 'It's fine. Don't worry. You can go back in,'" Stavridis explained.

"So, they were disappointed when we didn't say that and pointed out the issues and our concerns. But they were still very friendly."

UB students will continue to assess the data collected during the tour, a trip that only reinforced some basis tenets about buildings and their ability to withstand the destructive force of an earthquake.

Dr. Stavridis believes that modern construction in the United States follow appropriate standards, but the nation's heritage structures are another matter.

"As engineers, over the years, we have developed tools to assess buildings, and also tools to repair and retrofit (older, heritage) buildings."

"So, it's a matter of will in terms of the stakeholders, the owners, the city, to decide what they want to do.  The engineers have the tools so it's a matter of who's going to take the cost and the initiative to enforce that."