Central Mexico Earthquake Reconnaissance – Day 1

Team 1 – We are here, Not sure what to expect…

This journey started on Tuesday, September 19th, 2017 while I was attending a conference in Sacramento, CA. Soon after the conference began, the devastating M7.1 earthquake hit the central part of Mexico. Within minutes, early accounts on social networks started to paint a picture of devastation and tragedy. Many people in Mexico City had recently participated in practice earthquake drills as a way to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 M8.5 earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of people. However, this earthquake appeared to be different. Friends of mine started to send videos that acquaintances or strangers had recorded and my first reaction was that this earthquake was affecting a different class of buildings. But it was too early to focus on the technical aspects of the seismic event. The human tragedy in Mexico City and surrounding communities was unfolding and being broadcast almost in real-time.

“Shakemap” of the region impacted by the earthquake. Image credit: Instituto de Ingenieria Unam.

I spent the rest of that day watching news on my mobile device while talking with colleagues both in the United States and Mexico. A common question was: Was I planning to go to Mexico City? There was no doubt in mind that I had to participate in the response.

After days of planning and dialogue, Reid Middleton decided to send an initial team of four engineers, with the likely scenario of a second team following a few days later. I was selected to lead Team 1 and we assembled a group of young and smart engineers to accompany me: Drew Nielson from the Everett office, Kevin Galvez from the Honolulu office, Nicole Trujillo from the San Diego office, and also joining us is Humberto Caudana, who holds a post-doc research position in the Structural Engineering Department at UCSD, is from Mexico City, and is also Nicole’s husband!

From prior experience participating in these type of reconnaissance teams, I knew that organizing the team logistics was the place to start. We found a good hotel in a safe, central location and booked our flights. On my way from San Diego, I couldn’t help but think what I would be exposed to. Mexico is my native country so this earthquake is personal and a lot more emotional for me. I’m grateful that all of my family and friends are safe and accounted for, but I can’t stop thinking about all the other families that are not as lucky.

Pets have also been affected by the devastation of the earthquake. The animals pictured here are being cared for, but have all lost their homes.

Nicole and Humberto arrived one day ahead of the rest of the team. Everyone else flew down Sunday afternoon and immediately headed to our hotel. We had our first team meeting at 7 PM to go over the ground rules, develop a plan for Monday, and write the main goals for our mission. We had decided we would try to assist with assessment and tagging of damaged buildings, as there is still a tremendous need to evaluate structures. Buildings continue to collapse, sometimes almost without warning. Our first stop tomorrow will be CENAPRED (Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres) and UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) to offer our help.

As we wrap up our first day, we are tired from traveling but are ready and eager to help. Our initial focus is to assist the local engineers in evaluating damaged buildings. We will also learn a lot from this and hope that we can contribute to reduce seismic risk in our own communities. Our plan is to write daily blog posts to give subscribers a first-hand account of what we observe and learn in Mexico City.

Stay tuned for daily updates from our team… and if you have questions about our efforts, please comment below and we will respond with an answer.

Earthquake Reconnaissance – Day 2