September 29, 2020 – Following the catastrophic explosion that wracked Beirut on August 4, 2020, a number of faculty and alumni at Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) took the initiative to provide what assistance they could in their fields of expertise. Dr. Michel Chalhoub, Associate Professor at the NDU Faculty of Engineering (FE), and member of the Public Safety Committee in Lebanon, joined the initiative headed by the Lebanese Order of Architects and Engineers (OEA).
“I joined the State of California Office of Emergency Services (Cal-OES) in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked Northern California,” said Dr. Chalhoub, outlining his experience in disaster relief. “Since then, I have been contributing to disaster relief as a licensed Professional Engineer including the Joshua Tree earthquake, Landers and Big Bear earthquake, and Northridge earthquake – in addition to hurricanes and fires. When the explosion hit Beirut, I volunteered and attended to inquiries from residents, stakeholders, and NGOs.”
The OEA assembled 60 teams to perform damage surveys throughout the city. Dr. Chalhoub headed a team of 8 OEA members, including NDU alumnus Makram Al Kontar (BE’19), who conducted damage surveys and assessment for 67 buildings affected by the blast in the Ashrafieh area. “Our team covered a technical assessment walkthrough, interviewed owners and occupants where applicable, developed a report on each building, used a GPS-enabled app to log the data,” said Dr. Chalhoub. “The collection of all plots (totaling 2200 by OEA) led to a global view of Beirut and its affected zones.”
“Several of my students in their 3rd and 4th year in Civil and Environmental Engineering at NDU expressed interest in joining,” said Dr. Chalhoub. “I approached the Order of Engineers and Architects (OEA) in Beirut, which was in the process of establishing an "operations room" as a reaction to the event. The OEA replied that volunteers must be registered engineers for various reasons, so my students were unable to join in the first phase. I am nevertheless extremely proud of their willingness to volunteer. This is exactly the spirit that I expect our NDU students to nurture; a deep sense of community solidarity and resilience shined through.”
A second initiative that promises direct student involvement is already in the works. “I contacted my colleague Dr. Talal Salem [Associate Professor and Chairperson at the FE’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering] with a letter proposing a project for the planning and reconstruction of the ‘Sustainable and Green Port of Beirut’,” explains Dr. Chalhoub. “Dr. Salem and I often discussed how to help our students play a leadership role in society and develop themselves.” The letter was then sent through by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to the Lebanese Army suggesting a proposal for a path forward after the disaster. “We both hoped that this would engage and mobilize students into a long-term project that benefits the community outside and inside NDU,” said Dr. Chalhoub. Dr. Chalhoub’s hopes appear well-founded, with twelve NDU civil engineering students set to be part of on-ground visits to help with this second initiative.
Commenting on the direction for the second initiative, Dr. Chalhoub said, “Disaster relief, emergency response, and damage assessment are necessary actions to perform. However, without a clear plan the entire effort would fall short of getting the capital city – and the country – on the path to recovery. This includes a strategy about rebuilding the port based on modern techniques, the latest safety and environmental requirements, and offering a futuristic vision of how a novel Port should be.” The second initiative includes a design phase in the first 3 to 9 months, followed by a consultative role during execution.