Jochen Woessner is a lead modeler in earthquake model development at RMS, and is based in Zurich. He joined fellow employees from RMS and RMS clients on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Jochen’s account of his time in Nepal.
“I am sorry, you have only five minutes, please focus on the conclusion of your work,” said the convener G. Pokharel to Liva Shrestha, the local lead structural engineer for Build Change and myself when we sat down on the panel chairs of the session entitled “Disaster Risk Management and Prevention”. This session was on day three of the Fifteenth National Convention of Engineers in Kathmandu, organized by the Nepali Engineers’ Association. Liva calmly walked to the podium and started giving her talk about goals and achievements of Build Change. My thoughts started circling. “How could I best condense my 25-minute presentation into a clear five-minute summary?”
Five days earlier, on the plane to Kathmandu, I polished the presentation scheduled for the seminar series “Intrepid Solutions”, set up by Build Change and the Nepali Engineers’ Association (NEA) at its headquarters to stimulate discussions between local practicing engineers, local researchers and international experts.
The surprise though, came minutes before the talk, when Jessica Stanford, the Build Change program manager for Nepal, asked with a convincing smile: “Jochen, we have an additional slot for a presentation in a session for the fifteenth NEA conference. Would you be so kind to fill this slot and also give a slightly longer version of your presentation there tomorrow?” Obviously surprised, I stumbled an “Oooh, uuhm, yes, sure – wouldn’t you want to listen first to today’s talk?” Still smiling, Jessica responded, “No, I don’t think that is necessary, the NEA people will appreciate international speakers.” Still puzzled, I nodded “Fine, I’ll go for it.”
Well, a day later was not quite exact, the conference program got rescheduled for the next day, giving me the opportunity to talk on Friday morning. Liva took me to the conference center. Registration seemed an unnecessary add-on, we just walked into the national conference hall that was half filled with about 250 people. Walking in, the session was not about engineering concepts, it was about gender equality in the NEA and opportunities for women to take leadership roles in the engineering community of Nepal, moderated by the Minister of Urban Development, a leading Nepali woman.
Shortly after that, we got on stage (see picture), and gave short versions of our hour-long presentations, as the previous session went over by more than one-and-a-half hours.
What did I learn from this experience? First of all, time is relative, and even more so in a developing country. Five minutes actually meant fifteen minutes so I was able to get some messages across from a risk modeler’s perspective on seismic risk in Nepal. Secondly, being able to improvise and adjust rapidly is paramount — albeit the fact that time is relative. Thirdly, surprises kept coming up — the convener said goodbye in German: “Vielen Dank für Ihre Präsentation.” And lastly, Build Change and RMS led me to most certainly be the only European contributor at this conference, a really unexpected opportunity to join a panel on Disaster Risk Management.
As a footnote: I would like to thank Vicky Stevens (RMS, London) for sharing her slides and knowledge of seismic hazard in Nepal from her previous engagements!