U-M experts can discuss aftermath of Nepal earthquake

April 27, 2015


Several University of Michigan experts are available to discuss the major earthquake that shook Nepal on Saturday, including issues of building construction, public health and earthquake geology.

Jim Wight, professor of civil and environmental engineering, can discuss the building construction in Nepal, building codes and earthquake-resistant construction approaches.

“It appears that most of their buildings were of unreinforced brick construction,” Wight said. “Such construction is known to be brittle and collapse prone during major earthquakes. I understand the area has been expanding rapidly and there are no significant building standards available. Also, even if better standards were available, enforcement of such standards is very difficult in a developing country.

“It is hard and expensive to repair or upgrade unreinforced brick construction. The better solution is to improve new construction standards and eventually remove the more dangerous existing structures. That is difficult to achieve even in the U.S., so it would be very difficult to achieve over there.

“I think good earthquake-resistant construction can make a significant difference in loss of life and property damage during a large earthquake.”

Contact: 734-763-3046, [email protected]. Bio: umicheng.in/1z6yuFN


Dr. Eden Wells, clinical associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Preventive Medicine Residency at the School of Public Health, has research interests in emerging infectious disease threats, applied epidemiology and public health practice, including preparedness planning for public health emergency events.

Wells currently is with the Department of Health and Human Services, serving as associate medical executive. She can address the range of public health issues that follow such a disaster, from the initial concerns associated with the identification of those in need or at risk of disease in disaster settings, to later problems with water quality, sanitation and basic living conditions.

“This is a major disaster that is affecting a large portion of Nepal, including border countries, and the weather over the last few days has complicated the immediate responses needed to assist the trapped and injured,” she said. “These urgent efforts are even further complicated by poor access and communications to remote areas. There is a need to understand, not only the immediate but the short, and what will be long-term, impacts on the health of the impacted populations.”

Contact: (734) 647-5306, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/6kxwd


JoLynn Montgomery is a communicable disease epidemiologist and assistant research scientist in epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

Her primary focus is on applied epidemiology and public health practice with specialization in control of communicable diseases, vaccine preventable diseases, disease surveillance systems, and public health emergency preparedness and response. For several years she directed the Michigan Center for Public Health Preparedness where she trained state and local health department staff in emergency response, epidemiology and disease surveillance.

In the current situation in Nepal, she can describe the immediate issues of injury and infection, clean food and water supplies, shelter, and mental health response as urgent, but warns that basic public health services, such as childhood vaccinations, need to be maintained.

“While it is crucial that Nepal receive support from the global community, it will be important that volunteers be deployed appropriately so that they do not place additional burden on resources of food, water and shelter that may be in short supply,” she said. “We must also learn from past emergencies and make sure they are healthy and well trained for such such situations.”

Contact: 734-763-2330, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/LzxKG

Mark Wilson is a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology with broad research interests in infectious diseases, including analyzing transmission of disease agents and the determinants of human risk.

He can discuss infectious disease risks associated with the disaster.

Contact: 734-936-0152, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/aZQ0g


William Axinn, professor of sociology and research professor at the Population Studies Center, is a demographer with expertise in the Nepalese population, society and families.

“Nepalese people have immense inner strength and resilience,” he said. “Although this is a terrible tragedy, I have every confidence it is a moment in time which will bring families, neighbors and communities together to work toward the common good.”

Contact: 734-763-8649, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/LovOm


Dean Yang, associate professor of economics and public policy, can address recovery from disasters in general, and in particular how migrant remittances help provide aid in the wake of disasters.

Contact: 734-764-6158, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/LE3Yp


Marin Clark is a geomorphologist and geophysicist who studies tectonic movements in the Himalayan region and who is an expert on landslides triggered by earthquakes.

Saturday’s earthquake happened on the plate boundary where India is moving northward into Eurasia at a rate of about 45 mm (1.8 inches) per year. Magnitude 8 to 9 earthquakes occur on the segment of the fault that includes Kathmandu every 500 to 1,000 years, Clark said.

“The region that experienced the earthquake Saturday is in one of the most seismically hazardous regions on Earth. So from a scientific perspective, this earthquake was quite expected,” Clark said. “The last major earthquake to affect this part of the Himalaya was in the 1500s. However, there have been three significant earthquakes in the Himalaya in the last century—in 1934, 1950 and 2005.”

Another major concern for this earthquake is secondary losses due to landslides generated by the strong shaking, said Clark, an associate professor in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The entire area that experienced shaking is in steep, mountainous topography where landsliding is a significant hazard. A possible comparison is the magnitude-7.9 earthquake in Sichuan Province, China, in 2008, which generated more than 200,000 landslides. Many of those landslides blocked roads, which slowed response and recovery efforts. They also blocked river valleys, which created a significant flood hazard.

Read a U-M news release about some of Clark’s work in the region: When continents collide: A new twist to a 50 million-year-old tale

Contact: 734-615-0484, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/Jmn71


Ben van der Pluijm, an earthquake geologist and professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, says that large earthquakes in this area are relatively rare but are ultimately responsible, over millions of years, for the uplift of the Himalayas.

“The setting of this earthquake exactly fits the predicted scenario of the Indian plate diving beneath the Asian plate,” van der Pluijm said.

Contact: 734-763-0373, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/JlxK7


Larry Ruff, professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is a seismologist who studies large earthquakes around the world.

Earthquakes that occur at continent-to-continent collision boundaries, like this one, produce all types of movements: normal faulting, strike-slip faulting and thrust faulting.

“But the largest motions in an earthquake like this are likely due to thrust faulting, and in the past that has been true along the Himalayan front, from one end to the other,” Ruff said.

Contact: 734-763-9301, [email protected]. Bio: myumi.ch/6pdGE