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We Love This Engineer, And You Will Too

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

Next month, Bill Holmes will again tuck his tall frame into a tiny airplane to work with engineers in Bhutan, a Himalayan country that is due for a very big earthquake. He’s one of the expert mentors we bring to communities that are fixing buildings before a disaster, and he’s always a hit.

“Bill has a big reach because he’s approachable, happy to share” said Hari Kumar, who manages our South Asia projects. “He has actually done everything he talks about. And he’s seen so much earthquake damage first-hand that he understands building behavior better than most."

Bill Holmes, right, and builders in Bhutan review structural reinforcement for a masonry building. Photo: Janise Rodgers

William T. Holmes (Bill) was just elected to the National Academy of Engineering, for excellence in structural design and leadership in improving the seismic safety of buildings. If only you could see him in action.

It takes a mix of technical skill and professional judgment to improve vernacular construction, and engineers in far flung places have learned this from Bill. He shares vivid detail, and great stories, from decades of experience. He has also authored several practical guides.

Bill designing seismic restraints in Bhutan, with no power, no problem. Photo: Janise Rodgers

“Most consultants of his stature have stepped away from detailed technical work, or rough conditions, but he hasn’t at all.” said Dr. Janise Rodgers, COO of GeoHazards International.

Case in point: Bill was in Bhutan and needed to teach local engineers to design a seismic “snubber” for a hospital generator, but there was a power outage, so he made the calculations by headlamp, using his phone calculator.

Bill discusses protection for medical equipment, backup power, and water, because their failure in an earthquake would disrupt patient care. Photo: Janise Rodgers

Back to those engineers in Bhutan. Many buildings in their country are made of unreinforced masonry or rammed earth, which can turn lethal in heavy shaking. With new technical know-how, and mentors like Bill and the rest of our team, they are assessing schools for collapse risk, prioritizing repairs, improving hospital backups, and bolting equipment.

They are even prepared to decide if damaged buildings are safe to use, a skill that will speed recovery after an inevitable earthquake.

Bhutan engineers evaluate a damaged rammed earth building with experts Bill Holmes and Mel Green, part of a GeoHazards International training. Photo: Brian Tucker

“Worldwide we have a long way to go, but the movement is there, especially to fix or replace schools. I believe our work makes a difference,” says Bill. “That’s why I keep saying yes to these trips.”

With your support, we can continue to connect people who have experience with people who need it, to close the gap in global safety.

P.S. Bill has also worked with us in India, in Delhi, Mizoram, and Dharamshala; and on the framed infill network. Those are stories for another note.


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