Describe your current role
A structural engineer consultant and disaster risk reduction specialist with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). I am involved in the technical monitoring and execution of a project called Smart Hospitals aimed at improving the resilience of healthcare infrastructure across seven low GDP countries.
The project is designed to improve critical facilities’ ability to withstand natural hazards and adapt to climate change. I also form part of the PAHO/World Health Organisation (WHO) disaster response team if there are any major events regionally or globally.
Describe your path to your current role
My career started with a traditional undergraduate degree in civil engineering, followed by two years of work experience in a design office, before doing my masters degree in structural engineering. I continued working for structural design offices in Trinidad and Jamaica.
During this time I was very active with the IStructE regional group, which offered great networking opportunities with more senior and renowned engineers. When the position at PAHO/WHO opened in the Jamaican Department of Preparedness and Disaster Response, which was far outside my typical sphere of design work, I was encouraged by one of my IStructE networking colleagues to apply.
Are there any key things you did, or learnt, that helped you on your career path?
Volunteering, being curious and flexible with your time and making active contributions in your career opens you up to possibilities and experiences that become a part of your development as a person and an engineer.
I was asked to take on an active role in the IStructE regional group quite early in my career, through my employer and fellow engineers. Although it was demanding at times, the benefits of being willing to participate, contribute and learn led to many professional relationships, friendships, and opportunities for broadening my career path. This is a similar approach I take to all aspects of my life, not just professionally in structural engineering.
What are your future career aspirations?
Emergency and disaster response has opened my eyes to the gaps that often exist between design and reality. There is a massive need to improve the construction quality of many non-engineered buildings and infrastructure. Furthermore, to improve the awareness of causes of damage and failure from natural hazard events for the benefit of design engineers and the people who are most affected after such events. I hope to make tangible contributions, small ones, through the work that I do in this field across the countries and region that I work and live in.
What motivates you to work in relief/development?
Immediate disaster response is what takes place within the first few days or weeks of an event. The work done in this time is pivotal to reducing morbidity and providing relief and support to affected people.
There is gratification in knowing that your work is directly touching people’s lives for the better. Medium and long-term response and projects like Smart Hospitals aid in reducing the impact of major natural hazard events on society and safeguard people’s well-being. These positives outcomes encourage me to keep working in this field.
Who should become a structural engineer working in the humanitarian or development sectors?
Engineers in the humanitarian and development sectors operate largely without additional oversight and input from a supervising engineer. This means one would have to be experienced and confident in providing reasonable, practical, safe and cost-effective solutions to problems. A Chartered Engineer with several years of additional post-chartership experience is recommended.
This field of work also requires a wider understanding and awareness of the nuances of local culture, religion, politics and the objectives of different stakeholders. Being a team player, cooperative and collaborative is essential as is being a good communicator and having a willingness to learn.
How is membership of the Institution relevant and useful to your work in international development or humanitarian work?
Following the high standards set by the Institution and the Chartered Member Examination, together with its core criteria requirements for all structural engineers is essential in developing a strong knowledge and experience base for working in this field.
The Institution's mandatory continued professional development ensures that you remain relevant and pertinent to this field of work and are aware of developments and changes in different parts of the world.
Lastly, actively taking part in IStructE panels and committees is beneficial in networking with colleagues from around the world who share similar interests from different backgrounds and experiences. Being involved with the panels and committees also offers the possibility of creating positive change in the industry.