Earthquake-Prone City in the Clouds Needs the Cloud to Protect Homes and Families

September 21, 2021 Redshift Video

Densely populated Bogotá, Colombia, is located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, the most seismically active region in the world. It’s also home to many informal urban neighborhoods, where houses are often built by low-income families that lack the proper skills or training to ensure structural safety.

Build Change is working to protect these vulnerable houses. The nonprofit organization—which works in emerging nations to reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses caused by earthquake-related structural collapses—is using innovative technology to identify retrofitting opportunities in this city of 7 million. In partnership with the Autodesk Foundation, Build Change has developed a cloud-based field-capture tool that can scan homes and zero in on structural weaknesses. Watch the video to learn how the tool has helped Build Change retrofit homes in Bogotá at scale.

[Video Transcript]

Pilar Bórquez, Homeowner, Usme District: This house to me means … well, it’s a big accomplishment. The walls were in bad shape; some were up, some down. The rebar stuck out. They asked me, “What would you like the most?” I said, “Fix my home!” And that’s how it started. 

Juan Caballero, VP of Programs for Latin America and the Caribbean, Build Change: Colombia is a very interesting case. It has one of the world’s highest urban population rates. There is a lot of informal housing construction; the country is very exposed to seismic faults along the Pacific Ring of Fire; and with the very high urban density, the risk to buildings in Colombia is very significant.

That’s a real wake-up call, and that’s in part why [Build Change] decided to make a real effort to improve this situation in Colombia. Right now, we’re helping the city of Bogotá to do complete structural reinforcement on a large scale, taking a home and reinforcing that structure so it can handle an adequate and reliable second story. 

Ricardo Ramírez, Director of Home Improvement, Bogotá Housing Fund: When I started at Build Change in 2012, we did everything on paper. We’re talking about millions of houses. You would need an army of architects and engineers. All that is old news. Now we go to a house, use the field-capture tool, and that information is georeferenced and digitized in the cloud, where we won’t lose it. And it will be a process in which I can see what happened to that house from the first time I visited it to when it is built.

But the most important thing is that it allows us to scale up, to be able to make not 1,250 but 50,000 interventions. This is a matter of technological and social innovation, and the only way to do it is by using this type of tool.

Manuela Pinilla, Build Change Country Program Manager, Colombia: It has allowed us to develop and strengthen as experts in the structural reinforcement of housing in Colombia and to be able to transfer this knowledge to local governments in a way that is useful. 

William Molano, Architect and Advisor, Plan Terrazas: First, we strengthen the skeleton of the house—the soul of the house—so that it is well-built. That day when we hand over the key and say, “Here is what we proposed a year ago; here it is in reality; here is your housing subsidy finished and built,” we are helping families to stay in place, that they take root, that they can grow.

Paula Pachón, Architect, Bogotá Housing Fund: You really start to learn life stories and understand why the house is the way it is. You understand that it is a family heirloom, that their mom built it with her bare hands, which in the end gives things greater weight. You want to do your best work and do it with more heart.

Carolina Bohórquez, Homeowner, San Cristóbal District: My husband and I have been struggling a lot with this land. And now, thank God, we are given this opportunity.  

A lady came over, an architect. She looked around and said that if the first floor needed anything, they’d reinforce it. Honestly, we still can’t believe it. We still can’t believe they are going to fix the house. This house for me is a treasure, one of the few I have.

Bórquez: So far, I’ve felt two earthquakes here after having fixed the house, and nothing has happened to me. I haven’t had to take off running. It was a big change, from top to bottom. If they come to fix things, bless them.

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