Shear Wave Velocity Measurement and Estimation of Seismic Response in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Geoscientists Without Borders
Earthquake Preparedness Projects

As a result of this project Haiti will be more self-sufficient with respect seismic site response analysis and earthquake design.

Haiti is one of the most impoverished nations in the world and highly susceptible to strong ground motion as evidenced by the January 12, 2010 Port-au-Prince earthquake, which led to catastrophic loss of life. Today, Haiti remains at risk of future seismic events.

In order to properly design earthquake-resistant buildings, you have to understand the underlying environment. A seismic site response analysis will be conducted, where the effect of soil stiffness on earthquake amplification will be quantified. This is particularly significant as it overcomes the shortage of drilling rigs, traditionally used for borehole analysis.

The scope of this project includes: 1) Seismic surface wave testing, 2) derivation of shear wave velocity 3) performing seismic site response to derive ground motion parameters for structural design and 4) training reconstruction organizations how to use the equipment and results.

Status Complete

Statement of Work

Haiti is one of the most impoverished nations in the world. According 2011 statistics compiled by the World Bank, the average annual income in Haiti is around $700, and 77% of Haitians live below the poverty line. Haiti is also highly susceptible to strong ground motion as evidenced by the January 12, 2010 Port-au-Prince Earthquake, which led to catastrophic loss of life with fatalities estimated at around 300,000. The earthquake also resulted in approximately $8 billion in damage, which is approximately 120% of Haiti's annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Today, Haiti remains at risk due to its location in a zone of high seismicity. Most earthquake-induced loss of life in underdeveloped nations like Haiti is due to structural collapse, which is caused by poor construction practices and unknown soil conditions.

Soil conditions play a role by causing amplification, which destabilizes buildings and causes them to collapse. Some post-earthquake research has been performed in an effort to map soil conditions in the Port-au-Prince area. The site condition maps published as a result of this effort serve as a helpful guide for initial planning, but maps such as these should always be followed by site-specific analyses, especially for structures where collapse would result in significant loss of life. As the ongoing process of rebuilding continues in Haiti, new structures should be built using appropriate technologies and methods where the effect of local site conditions on earthquake-induced ground surface shaking are quantified. By quantifying expected levels of ground shaking, structural engineers can prudently design structures to be more resistant to earthquake shaking, which will reduce earthquake-induced loss of life and property loss in the future. Such technologies and methods are routinely applied in developed nations such as the United States and Japan, where earthquakes are frequent but earthquake-induced loss of life is relatively minor. However, there is a capability gap where engineers in underdeveloped nations such as Haiti do not have access to these technologies and methods. Therefore, there is a need to start practitioners in Haiti on a path where sites are assessed using the same state-of-practice methods that are successfully used in developed nations.

This humanitarian project is intended to address the lack of knowledge and expertise in Haiti with respect to seismic site response analysis. We will apply a state-of-practice approach to performing seismic site response analyses in Haiti, which will include the use of geophysical seismic surface wave testing.

The scope of this project will include:

  1. geophysical testing at selected sites in Haiti to demonstrate the field methods
  2. training Haitian personnel on how to perform the testing, analyze the data, and calculate seismic site response using donated equipment and software
  3. conducting training seminars at the university level to teach university professors and students how to apply the methods in the future

Conducted seismic testing of 7 sites and calculated design spectral acceleration values. Developed a user's manual on how to use the equipment and results.

Principal Investigator

Professor Michael Kalinski – University of Kentucky

Team members

University of Kentucky: Melinda Jean-Louis
Haiti Engineering: Herby Lissade
University of Haiti: Professor Christian Rousseau
Samuel Dalembert Foundation


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