Shelter Project in Haiti

Dr. Gustavo Cortes, assistant professor of civil engineering, journeyed to Haiti to inspect transitional shelters last June. The structures were built for families left homeless after the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country in January 2010.

Many of the shelters were constructed quite rapidly and are now being used as semi-permanent housing, and Dr. Cortes is searching for ways to improve current shelter designs and create new, better designs for use in future emergencies.

Currently, two senior design teams are working under the direction of Dr. Cortes to find solutions to these problem. One senior design team is working to develop practical ways to improve current construction practices in Haiti.

The other senior design team is designing a shelter to enter into the second Disaster Shelter Design Competition hosted by World Vision and John Brown University. The team will be required to design and build a shelter that will meet specified criteria and can be rapidly assembled in a disaster area. The project includes research, structural design, structural testing, detailing and construction.

While in Haiti, Dr. Cortes also gave a lecture about hurricane and earthquake resistant design to the civil engineering students at the division of the American University of the Caribbean located in Les Cayes, Haiti. The trip was planned as a part of a continuing project for LeTourneau University involving testing structural components that will be used in future shelter structures.

During the second part of his trip, Dr. Cortes worked with Swiss-based non-governmental organization Medair on their transitional shelters built outside the city of Jacmel. He used the opportunity to help with design issues and inspect some of the units.

Dr. Cortes grew up in Puerto Rico, where his father owned a construction company, and saw what natural disasters could do to poorly constructed buildings. Cortes went on to earn his bachelor and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and in 2009 earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering/structures from Purdue University.