Following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador on 16th April, UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering Teaching Fellow Carlos Molina Hutt was deployed to the country with the European Union Civil Protection Team (EUCPT). Harriette Stone, EngD Researcher with the Centre for Urban Sustainability and Resilience (USAR), deployed a few of weeks later with the Institution of Structural Engineers’ Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team (EEFIT).
Carlos deployed with the EUCPT almost immediately after the earthquake, coordinating assistance to victims of the earthquake and working alongside the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team.
Carlos was one of three Structural Engineering Experts in the team, whose role was to work alongside the Ecuadorian Government to evaluate the safety of damaged buildings and to coordinate the response of additional experts deployed from other European Countries. Overall, the European teams assessed nearly 1000 buildings while on the ground. Other types of assistance provided are illustrated in the map below
With their efforts focused around Portoviejo, the capital of the Province of Manabí, Carlos and the EUCPT team and experts from Italy, France and the UK conducted structural assessments around the city. As well as conducting rapid assessments, tagging buildings as green (no damage), yellow (restrictions on building usage) or red (unsafe for occupancy) after quick but thorough evaluations of the risks to occupants and the surrounding areas, the team also conducted demolition verification, where they ensured no buildings that could be salvaged would be demolished, and more detailed safety assessments of the key buildings such as hospitals, schools and public buildings.
Harriette’s deployment with EEFIT was a few weeks after the earthquake and focused on learning engineering lessons from the failures of buildings, including those around design codes, materials, construction, and the initial and longer-term response, rather than the post-earthquake safety of the EUCPT mission.
The EEFIT team, made up of structural engineers, geotechnical engineers and a social scientist, travelled to the large coastal provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldas that were hit by some of the worst of the earthquake damage. Harriette and the team found most of the failures in concrete structures were to do with a lack of seismic-specific design as well as material and construction quality. Timber structures were mostly damaged due to issues with the material quality caused by poor maintenance, resulting from rot and insect infestation.
Harriette noted that the Las Caras bridge linking Bahía de Caráquez and San Vincente survived the earthquake shaking with minimal but repairable damage, protected by its base isolation system. This bridge was a key route for the initial humanitarian response to the worst affected area.
Speaking about her experiences, Harriette said: “The lasting memories that I will take away from my time in Ecuador will be the people. Ecuadorians, despite having suffered greatly, were more than happy to share their experiences, however painful.”
Carlos said: “The trip was a learning experience from start to end. Understanding some of the complexities of working in a post-disaster environment was a big lesson. While on the ground, I also realized that in this kind of scenario, the greatest challenge when conducting post-earthquake safety evaluation of buildings was not the technical one, but rather understanding the context, the constraints, being able to work with the local community and acknowledging that because the mission has a finite length it is important to pass on skills to the local community.”
Both the teams from EUCPT and EEFIT will be publishing reports to present their respective findings in the coming months, and will also be publishing research papers, so keep your eyes peeled.
Find out more about the teams’ missions to Ecuador: