Prepared for anything as their truck crawled across the Grande-Anse river, a crew of engineers from Engineering Ministries International (eMi) departed for another day of evaluations in the Haitian Grande-Anse Division capital city of Jeremie. The river crossing is the only way to take a vehicle in or out of the city after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake severely damaged the only bridge serving the area on August 14, 2021.

Bill McNeal, PE, a mechanical engineering principal advisor in Coffman’s Anchorage office, recounts this commute and his time volunteering as a disaster responder in the Les Cayes area, one of the hardest hit in Haiti.

Building damage in Les Cayes, Haiti
Building damage in Les Cayes, Haiti caused by 2021 earthquake.

“Haiti has over 700 designated emergency shelters sites, and most sites are schools, churches, and other public buildings. The shelters are intended as temporary housing for residents displaced from their homes by natural disasters.

Two teams of eMi volunteers were sent to evaluate 100 emergency shelter sites identified as needing upgrades to meet minimum shelter standards. I was a member of the first team of three engineers in Haiti from August 24, 2021, through September 14, 2021. We visited 53 separate shelter sites that had had between one to seven different buildings. A second eMi team traveled to Haiti on September 25, 2021, to evaluate the remaining sites.

Our evaluations targeted critical issues related to building seismic safety, water supply, and sanitation. My specific efforts were to evaluate the Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH) and provide recommendations to bring the sites to a reasonable level of health safety. The data gathered at the shelter sites generated a list of recommended upgrades for each location.

Damaged bridge Grande Anse River, Haiti
Damaged bridge Grande Anse River, Haiti


  • Hardening the reliability of water supply sources,
  • Inclusion of rainwater collection and storage,
  • Providing hand washing faucets near toilets and dining areas,
  • Upgrades to toilet facilities to enhance sanitation,
  • Solid waste (trash) collection and incineration,
  • Filtration and chlorination of collected rainwater, and
  • Reduction of mosquito breeding in ponded water by proper surface grading.

Funding for the evaluation and potential repairs of the 100 sites comes from USAID. This funding finances emergency shelter evaluation efforts and provides some funding for possible upgrades at the 100 shelters. The shelter evaluations are completed through a partnership with Seattle-based World Concern (WC) and eMi.”

Anchorage, Alaska, is home for Bill. His involvement with eMi over the years has taken him on engineering missions to different places around the world. Bill is an accomplished engineer with decades of experience; however, one of his most outstanding career achievements is supporting rebuilding and humanitarian projects.

It will be a long road to recovery for Haiti and we offer a heartfelt thank you to Bill, eMi, and the other groups supporting the significant rebuilding efforts.