Plans to protect Port-au-Prince begin in Ketter Hall

Photo of Paolo in the lab.

Paolo Bourdeau left), a junior civil engineering student, works with graduate student Reda Snaiki. Photo: Holly Acito

by Peter Murphy

Published December 5, 2018

UB undergraduate Paolo Bourdeau plans to use the research he conducted during a 10-week Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) research internship last summer to make his home country of Haiti more resilient to hurricanes.

“My end goal is to go back to Haiti and improve the civil infrastructure, but my big dream is to improve the building codes for all developing countries.”
Paolo Bourdeau, Junior
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Bourdeau, a junior in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, worked with Teng Wu, assistant professor in the department who specializes in wind and structural engineering.

Bourdeau first became interested in working with Wu after he discovered some of Wu’s research estimating the damage on residential homes by hurricane models.

“I was really interested in that,” he says. “Being from Haiti, I was sensitive to the fact that hurricanes strike not only the Caribbean, but the east coast of the United States. I was drawn to Dr. Wu’s research interests but I wasn’t able to work with him during the semester. Thanks to the LSAMP program, I was able to.”

Wu, Bourdeau and Wu’s PhD student, Reda Snaiki, worked together to more accurately determine wind speed during hurricanes, tropical cyclones or nor’easters and winter storms. Combining the wind speed with an estimation of surface roughness can help assess the damage these different phenomena have on homes, buildings and infrastructure.

“I improved wind field calculations by estimating surface roughness along the east coast of the U.S.,” Bourdeau says. “I used surface roughness classification schemes from previous researchers and students to develop a map of the East Coast that shows the average surface roughness within a 0.5-by-0.5-degree resolution.”

Wu notes that in this type of experiment, roughness is equivalent to height. “We are trying to determine the wind speed during these events. Once we have wind speed, we can try to determine damage.”

Bourdeau, who was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, plans to take these calculations and use them to make advances in the way the country currently protects its civil infrastructure. He intends visit Haiti later this year to meet with officials to examine the country’s resiliency to these high-wind events, as well as to review damage assessments and risk analysis.

“My plan is to apply what I’ve done for these 10 weeks and see how I can advance on that,” he says. “I plan to go to Haiti and speak with officials and engineers there to see what they are actually doing to protect themselves against this natural phenomenon. If I bring back that info, I can add to the research that UB has to offer.”

The LSAMP program aims to diversify the STEM workforce by significantly increasing the numbers of students successfully completing high-quality degree programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Bourdeau says he had a “great experience” during the LSAMP summer internship program.

“We were working on surface roughness, and the PhD student I worked with, Reda (Snaiki), really showed me how important it actually is. It is important for damage assessment, but it is important for other disciplines like evapotranspiration, geological applications and wind farms. It’s very interdisciplinary.

“My end goal is to go back to Haiti and improve the civil infrastructure,” Bourdeau says, “but my big dream is to improve the building codes for all developing countries.”