Into the aftermath

When a natural disaster occurs, the world watches the devastation and responds as best it can. But, after the initial exposure, most of the world moves on from the catastrophe and a new event claims our attention — except for civil engineering faculty member Justin Marshall. In our Spring/Summer 2010 issue, we covered Marshall and his work in Haiti following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rocked the island.

Recently, Marshall set out again, this time as part of a 22-person group that traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand, to assess damage after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake stunned the country in February. In conjunction with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), the team conducted building assessments in the hard-hit downtown district to determine whether buildings could be entered and what could be done to stabilize them. The team also documented damage around Christchurch, analyzed data and talked to locals about their experience. Their data can also be used to benefit building codes and practices in the United States.

“The mission of earthquake reconnaissance is to generate what we call ‘lessons learned,’” says Marshall. “We go to see what things worked and didn’t work in that situation to see what we can do better in the future.”