Peter Cormier – 2018 RMS Impact Trek in Nepal

Pete Cormier is a lead cat analyst for Liberty Mutual, and joined employees from RMS on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Pete’s account of his time in Nepal. 

Lusi Huang’s Nepal Impact Trek Diary

Lusi Huang is a Risk Engineer for Chubb North America and joined employees from RMS on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Lusi’s trek diary.

Simpson Strong-Tie Fellow Update: Adventures into Safer Building in Indonesia

by Dr. James Mwangi, Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow 2017-18 Arriving on the other side of the Pacific The journey to Padang, Indonesia started on August 3rd, 2017 in San Francisco, California with connections in Manila, Philippines and Jakarta, Indonesia. I arrived exhausted but excited in Padang on August 5th after almost 24 hours in the air. Padang is the provincial capital of West Sumatra and lies just south of the equator. The high temperatures are usually in the low 80’s, with lows hovering around the mid-70’s (Fahrenheit). I arrived in what is said to be “dry season” (May-September), although the high humidity and rain do not coincide with my experience of dry seasons elsewhere. I imagine the wet season (October ‐ April) is like living in a swimming pool. Padang’s old town lies in the low land, designated a … Read More

Meet the First Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change

Originally posted by Paul McEntee on August 17, 2017 on the Simpson Strong-Tie Structural Engineering Blog Introducing James P. Mwangi, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. – our first annual Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. James Mwangi will write a quarterly blog about his experience throughout the Fellowship. I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute this post and feel honored to be the first-ever Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. It’s my hope that this post will inform you about my professional background, why I applied to the Fellowship and how I think the Fellowship can benefit people and the structures they live, work and go to school in. I grew up in Kenya and went through my basic education and my undergraduate coursework in civil engineering there. I worked for the government of Kenya as a junior roads engineer before proceeding to … Read More

Taking Time to Learn in Nepal

Contributed by Paul Wilson It’s been 2 weeks, nearly to the day, since I returned from Nepal while I am writing this -although it’s hard to tell precisely given this is the third time zone I’ve been in during that time- but I do know that I’m 2 weeks late in writing this blog. Admitting my tardiness is exactly why the experience of the RMS Impact Trek is of such value. We all have day jobs and commitments that absorb most of our time and it is a rare opportunity to be able to step outside our daily routine, to learn about something new, experience a new part of the world and talk with people whose passion and commitment to the work they do might just inspire us to try and contribute however we can and perhaps challenge our own … Read More

The Impact of Data in Recovering from a Natural Disaster

Contributed by Jeremy Zechar  Hello, dear reader from the future. Perhaps you’re reading this without context, so allow me to set the scene. In March of 2017, RMS invited me, an unsuspecting client, to join their Impact Trek to Nepal. Seven other trekkers and I visited  Build Change, an organization whose Nepali operation seeks to help improve construction and retrofitting practices in the villages struck hardest by the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake. We toured some of those villages and regrouped at Build Change headquarters in Kathmandu. If, after reading the piece below, you want to know more, send me a message. Or read some of the other blogs.  If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what does that make writing about architecture? Um, tedious? Some of the trekkers were (somehow, unbelievably) lulled to sleep by the violent rocking of the vehicles that transported us … Read More

Building Change in Nepal

Contributed by Amy Carter Having just returned from the RMS Impact Trek in Nepal I felt encouraged to write about the tremendous work which Build Change is doing following the devastating earthquake in April 2015. My awareness of the charity only really came to light when RMS announced they would be organizing the impact trek and choosing three clients to take with them. I was lucky enough to be one of those three. But this fact has also resonated how lesser known the charity is, especially in the insurance sector in which we work. Given my naivety, my assumption of Build Change was rather simplistic. Typically in the relief efforts following a natural disaster, international agencies respond by reconstructing buildings and critical infrastructure which has been destroyed in a catastrophic event. What often happens in these situations however is that … Read More

RMS Impact Trek Nepal 2017: Exploring Bhimtar and Eklephant

Contributed by Caroline Fox On our first day in the field we headed up to Bhimtar, a rural fishing community about 45 minutes from the main road and where we are staying.  Bhimtar was badly impacted by the earthquake, with most houses completely destroyed.  Since the earthquake occurred just before midday on a Saturday, most people were down by the nearby river and children were not in school.  All buildings in the village were destroyed, killing most livestock, but fortunately human fatalities were limited to the few people who had stayed inside.  Looking around the village it’s difficult to see where the original houses once were with rubble mostly cleared, but there is the occasional glimpse of where a wall once stood traced out on the ground.  Now, the temporary structures that people are living in are made of corrugated metal or wood and are dispersed more widely.  It’s hard … Read More

Nepal: a Set of Challenges & Opportunities

Contributed by Maria Grazia Frontoso At 11:56am on 25 April 2015, Central Nepal was hit by a massive earthquake (7.8 magnitude), causing devastation to many parts of the country.  Luckily it happened when many people were not in their houses so the number of casualties was small compared to the number of destroyed or damaged houses. During the RMS Impact Trek in March 2017 I didn’t expect to see lots of houses still highly damaged neither many people (4 million) still living in temporary shelters. Almost 2 years after the earthquake! Rebuilding lost homes and livelihood is a slow and drawn-out process in an under-developed and bureaucratic country like Nepal. For villages completely flattened by the earthquake rebuilding houses from scratch is the only option. With a few issues: Construction codes are not always applied. “This is how it works … Read More

RMS Impact Trek Nepal 2017: A Change in Perspective

Contributed by Paul Lewis  After several days in Nepal, including two days in the field, my views have changed. My assumption was that everyone was building new homes to replace those destroyed by the 2015 earthquake, and that these new homes would be better, safer, and more capable of serving the needs of the people that lived in them. I thought this was simply an issue of technical skill, logistics, labor and material resources, and money. But the truth is more nuanced and complicated, and Build Change is tackling the issue of home retrofitting. According to Build Change, retrofitting these damaged homes can be cost effective and provide the same space that existed before the home was damaged, in some cases far more than a new home. Because of a lack of funds, new homes often need to be smaller … Read More

Not Just Houses, but Homes: What it means to be “homeowner-driven”

Contributed by Hailey Mitchell Have you ever thought about building your own house? Not just selecting the finishes, assembling IKEA furniture, or maybe laying a bathroom tile or two. I mean really starting from scratch: removing soil, mixing concrete (by hand), tying steel rebar, laying blocks… Would it change the way you felt about the building? Now imagine doing this in the wake of immense tragedy while you are living in a temporary shelter. This is exactly what is being done in villages across Nepal. But how? And why? My interest in participating in the Impact Trek (aside from the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Nepal and to see the Himalayas, which had been a dream of mine for years) was to witness firsthand how local people were being empowered by Build Change to reconstruct their communities. As someone with both … Read More

Reports after the Pidie Jaya Earthquake – Day 2 : Damages in Pidie Jaya and Trianggadeng

In the morning we went to the Pidie Jaya District to meet with the head of the district’s Department of Education (DP). On our way there, we observed some damaged buildings, most of which had suffered wall, column beam, and roof collapses.             We met with representatives from the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, and Save the Children. They are collaborating to build 13 emergency school buildings. They are currently completing structural assessments and intend to complete the construction by December 25, 2016, as requested by the President. The designs have been prepared by the Ministry of Public Works.                 We then assessed four schools in the Trianggadeng sub-district, which is one of the areas that was most affected. Three of them are comprised of confined masonry buildings, and … Read More

Hurricane Matthew: Into Southwestern Haiti to Assess Damages in Jeremie

The Build Change reconnaissance team for the South and Grande Anse departments is composed of 4 engineers and our driver Ken. Junior is a team leader who has extensive knowledge in retrofit and new construction in confined masonry. Gaspard is the program manager for our current retrofit and reconstruction program in Port au Prince. Herode is a trainer from the block department. Clement has been a project engineer for 2.5 years in Haiti working on house and school retrofits. We left early Tuesday morning heading to Jeremie in the southwest peninsula of Haiti. Hurricane Matthew hit the coast on October 4th in Les Anglais (see map below) and crossed the peninsula from south to north with maximum sustained winds at 145 mph (230 km/h) and maximum wind gusts at 165 mph (270 km/h). (Source: USAID) We drove from east to … Read More

RMS Impact Trek: Day 5 – Rebuilding Dhunkarka After the Earthquake

I’ll start with a broad idea (not my own) that I believe is generally true: all around the world, local architectural forms have grown organically, mostly out of rural communities, in response to distinct physical environments. A few examples: throughout the floodplains of Southeast Asia, homes rise on stilts to allow the monsoon floods to pass underneath. In the Alps, steeply pitched roofs shed heavy snows. And in the arid mountains of Peru, thick adobe walls keep homes cool during the day and warm at night. In the same way, Nepal’s buildings are largely a product of the land the Nepalese inhabit: in a country of hills and mountains, with few flat and open spaces, rather than sprawling across acres of land, rural homes go vertical: cooking and livestock on the ground floor, sleeping quarters on the second floor, and grain storage … Read More

RMS Impact Trek: Day 4 – Becoming an Observer in Eklephant and Bhimtar

When I applied to the Impact Trek, one of the drivers of my desire to go was to see actual earthquake damage first hand. My experience with earthquake damage was numbers – how many buildings and casualties, how much loss in dollars. I’ve seen photos of damage – individual buildings, street blocks, aerial photos – but never quite connected with the reality of it all because I was so removed from it. I could look, sympathize, then move on with my day. However, being here in a remote village of Nepal, I see the scale of damage and it’s so much more than the metric of “177 buildings damaged”… I stand in the villages of Eklephant and Bhimtar, taking pictures of what was someone’s home – their intimate interiors now exposed to the elements and this foreigner’s camera lens. This … Read More

RMS Impact Trek: Day 3 – Retrofits in Dhunkarka

By Alastair Norris We are now all completely submerged in Nepali time and the first four days have quickly slipped by providing in a huge mix of emotions. I completely echo the words of Christine and Matt on how much of a culture shock it was arriving in Kathmandu four days ago, but what once seemed so strange to us all now feels like the normal way of life. As Christine mentioned in her blog, the five of us parted company yesterday, with Matt B. and I heading to Dhunkarka whilst Christine, Meghan, and Matt N. went to Sindupalchowk. After 3 hours of travelling (that felt more like riding an elephant than being in a jeep) we arrived at Build Change’s current retrofit houses in the region and were greeted by Kiran and Manoj, the respective site managers. At 25 and 27 they both have … Read More

RMS Impact Trek: Day 2 – To the Hills in Sindupalchowk

Nothing could have prepared me for the initial culture shock that set in while touring the streets of Kathmandu on our first day in Nepal. It may have been because I just finished a 24+ hour trip to the other side of the world and had nothing more than a few hours of airplane sleep, but I was extremely overstimulated. Walking (and driving) in Manhattan is a breeze compared to Kathmandu. To put things into perspective, imagine a narrow roadway that looks like it was designed to be a one way (partially paved) road. Now, imagine that same road being used as a two lane street, full of cars, buses, and motorcycles and all the vehicles moving, turning, and stopping wherever and whenever they want. There are no stop signs or stop lights. Now, fill this same road with people. … Read More

Saving Lives through Retrofitting in Colombia

Click here for link to Autodesk Foundation video. “We can build buildings to withstand earthquakes. The knowledge and technology are out there. We just have to make it accessible to everyone.” – Elizabeth Hausler Strand, Founder & CEO, Build Change In Colombia, we are working with city governments, the private sector, and homeowners to repair and strengthen homes before the next earthquake strikes. Retrofitting saves lives by ensuring that houses will protect families and children from future natural disasters. We started out retrofitting a single house in Bogotá, Colombia, to provide an opportunity for local training and to demonstrate feasibility. Jorge Prada’s family now lives in a safe house and he will help retrofit others. In partnership with Caja de la Vivienda Popular (CVP), the Swiss Re Foundation, and RMS, Build Change is now launching a pilot retrofitting project that will reach 50 houses. We are currently … Read More

World Economic Forums and World Urban Forum

Build Change CEO Elizabeth Hausler Strand recently attended both the World Economic Forum on Latin America and the World Economic Forum on East Asia, connecting with economic issues related to our disaster risk reduction program in Colombia and our post-disaster recovery programs in Indonesia and the Philippines. Build Change presented at the World Urban Forum in Medellín, Colombia in early April to encourage the use of retrofitting as a cost-effective approach that makes buildings safe and fosters community resiliency.