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Collapse of masonry buildings still accounts for most earthquake casualties in developing countries, even though effective earthquake-resistant building techniques are available. The amateur builders and local contractors who are responsible for most housing and small-scale commercial construction are typically unaware of these techniques, or they believe that prohibitively expensive engineering design and materials are required. However, the principal technique—confined masonry—is highly effective for nonengineered buildings of less than three stories, and it involves only modest changes in customary building practices.

I developed a 2 hour workshop to teach local builders in Guatemala earthquake-resistant construction techniques. Simple graphics with minimal captions and photographs of local buildings were used to show basic design principles, and to illustrate best versus poor practices. Printed manuals (in Spanish and illustrated for a low-literacy audience) were provided, for later reference and the possibility of wider dissemination. The most challenging aspect of this project was developing a working relationship with a local organization willing and able to assist with scheduling, publicity, and generally connecting me with appropriate audiences. My experience suggests that effective teaching is the most critical tool for providing meaningful assistance with a range of geologic and environmental challenges. Expert knowledge, fluency in local languages, and years of local experience are all useful but can be provided or developed through relationships with local partners. Targeted education addressing specific community needs can be highly effective for increasing resilience to natural hazards, and it represents a more-efficient and lower-cost alternative to many other forms of development aid.

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