Thursday, April 24, 2008

About the new job

Afghanistan, so what am I going to be doing out there? As most of you may know by now, I was hired as a Structural and Forensic Engineer by a Washington DC based NGO to work for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on their Infrastructure Project. This project has many different aspects, one of which is the Vertical Structures Sector, where I come into play.

This job requires to me to be in the field a good amount of time, all over the country, from the north to the south, and even as high as 12,000 feet in elevation in the mountains (or so the job description states). I am to evaluate and investigate existing buildings, of which could be schools, health clinics or other community buildings and design retrofitting solutions for rehabilitation. If it's beyond repair or upgradeable, then demolish and redesign a new building. In addition, I am to assist and advise on any structural issues of current buildings under construction within the USAID project.

With my background in design and interest in visiting remote and fascinating locations compounded with the fact my assignment with the United Nations in Indonesia was coming to a close, the job description jumped off the page at me. I truly believe this assignment will exercise most of my professional experiences and personal interests. (I hope this gives you a little idea why I decided to accept the position in Afghanistan)

My only concern, besides the obvious security situation, is the life style. Being locked in a guesthouse where I'm only able to travel outside with armed escorts isn’t my ideal living condition. My passion for mountain climbing will not be entertained here. Even mountain biking in the hills are out of the question (which is sad, cause it looks like a great place for it).


The security situation isn't all that great, and from what I hear, it's been getting worse. Overall security is provide by the NATO created International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). At this time, I know very little on the overall structure of the security forces. When I interviewed for the position, I was told that whenever I'm in the field, I will be escorted by two other armed vehicles. I will even have armed guards in my vehicle (pretty crazy huh? they might as well paint a big target on the roof!). It's going to be quite the new experience. No more island beach camping! Though my director says he feels more at risk walking in some parts of Washington DC than he does in Kabul.


Look at that map! The Hindu Kush, an offshoot of the Karakoram Range, marks the western extent of the greater Himalayas, these mountains spill right down the center of the country. Peaks in the northern area max out with Nowshak at an elevation of 7485m (24,557 ft.)! Even though I won't be able to climb any of them (I'm sadly leaving my ice axe at home), just seeing them would be pretty remarkable. In Kabul, which sits at an elevation of 1800m (5900ft), you can see numerous snow capped mountains.

Mickey Mouse Engineering?

I hope not, being this is earthquake country. A number of earthquakes have killed thousands of people in the greater region since the turn of the millennium. The 2005 Kashmir Earthquake (7.7), just to the east of Afghanistan, killed 73,000 people. To the west you have Iran where a 6.6 earthquake in 2003 killed 53,000 people. This is definitely a seismically active area so yes, lateral seismic loading will be in mind when designing these buildings. The buildings are being designed to meet the US building code, IBC. More on this later once I start working.

That's it for now...

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