Science for social change

First encounter with earthquakes


I think I was about four years old when I first experienced an earthquake. We lived in a residential building at the time, so we really felt it, a strong swaying motion. I can still remember the crack it created on our wall.

Life before GEM, my world in balance

Before joining GEM, I was a young professor, just five years into teaching. I had done some research activities related to structural behavior. At the time I worried a lot about academics more than anything else, and I didn’t know how to apply the knowledge, the research I’ve done for improving the wellbeing of our society. I didn’t feel satisfied with just doing research.

Encounters that changed my situation

In 2013, I was contacted by GEM to join the SARA project. I accepted the invitation because I saw an opportunity to learn about seismic risk assessment, to participate in a project that has real life applications, and where results can be used by policy makers to improve building codes and risk mitigation strategies.

Training to get better to address the challenges ahead

The training workshops in Medellín, Colombia in 2014, and Lima, Peru in 2015 also marked the start of a change in my knowledge and perspective of risk. During the training in 2014, we learned about the GEM building taxonomy and general concepts about seismic risk assessment. In the Peru training, we were introduced to OpenQuake.

Change can start with oneself

I think change can happen anytime, but it has to start with oneself. When the SARA project was completed in 2015, my collaboration with GEM did not stop there. Since 2016, we have been improving the exposure models of Medellín, Bogotá and Cali. We have also collaborated with GEM for the development of the Colombian exposure model that was used for the Global Earthquake Risk Map of 2018.

Guiding the future stewards of earthquake resilience

I have been teaching seismic risk assessment at the Seismic Engineering course at EAFIT since 2017 and tutored several students in using OpenQuake for undergrad research on seismic risk assessment of electric substations, water services in Medellín, and earthquake-induced landslides in Quito, Ecuador. This has been made possible because of the experiences I gained from the GEM SARA project.

No finish line, but we have to keep moving forward

Though I have achieved my goal to enhance my knowledge of seismic risk assessment, and to transmit that knowledge to my students, the engineering community, and to some extent, to the public at large; I also realized that this is not a ride that has a finish line. Each time I move forward, so does the finish line. But what’s important is to keep moving forward.

The power of commitment and collaboration

In the academia, I think many would only get involved in projects if there’s funding, but there’s a lot that can be done without the need of funding. The people at GEM are always open to answer your questions, to give you advice… and for me, that has more value than funding.

Inspiring others​

I hope that my learning experiences with GEM would inspire students, researchers, engineers and others to advocate for better seismic risk awareness and education to make Colombia and the world more resilient to earthquakes.

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