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WWU disaster experts learn what they can from Haiti's quake

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| Photo by Photo courtesy of Scott Miles
| Photo by Photo courtesy of Scott Miles
| Photo by Photo courtesy of Scott Miles
| Photo by Photo courtesy of Scott Miles

Two professors from WWU’s Resilience Institute spent a week this winter in Haiti, where they studied the destruction of January’s massive earthquake for the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.

Scott Miles, assistant professor of Planning and Environmental Policy, and Rebekah Green, associate director of WWU’s Resilience Institute, spent a week talking to residents, relief workers and government officials, gathering information about what Haitians need most to rebuild.

“We’re trying to understand the broader impacts,” Miles says. “How is the damage affecting livelihoods?”

Miles and Green toured schools, hospitals and marketplaces and met Haiti’s top disaster recovery official as well as an assistant to President Clinton and people whose homes had been destroyed.

The group also got to know the Haitians who worked as the group’s drivers, guides, interpreters and cooks – and who took the scientists to see how the quake had upended their own lives.

“Those were very difficult days,” Miles says.

Engineers as well as social scientists, Miles and Green also inspected some quake-damaged buildings, including a school that one man had built with money he had borrowed himself.

“One building looked okay on the outside, but inside we saw one of the load-bearing walls was completely compromised and we needed to get out now,” Miles says. “That hit him really hard. If he wants to rebuild, he has to take out another mortgage.”

In addition to helping governments and relief agencies better understand the Haiti earthquake, the information the group gathered may also help improve disaster response in general, Miles says.

“Every disaster is a learning opportunity,” he says. “We want to be able to respond and recover better every time.”