H. Kit Miyamoto, a structural engineer and an expert in seismic-resistant design, has enormous experience bringing engineering relief to the scenes of disasters and helping local leaders restore safety and order amid danger and chaos. Experience helps him guide distraught victims and officials to the surcease of suffering, but also, importantly, to a future that is better engineered.

"In a disaster, common sense doesn't happen," Miyamoto explains. "A kind of panic exists, and certain things people start doing don't make sense. We have a lot of experience in disaster and reconstruction, and we know what's not going to work and what things will work."

Miyamoto has been on the scene of major quakes in China, Japan, Haiti, New Zealand, Turkey and elsewhere. In particular, what torments him are the deaths of school children—school structures often needlessly fail due to a lack of engineering knowledge, poor building practices and substandard materials. To Miyamoto, it is senseless and avoidable.

For years, Miyamoto has leveraged his company, Miyamoto International, to back up his pro bono work and bring engineering support to quake zones to assess damaged structures and train cadres of locals to do the same. Then, the firm trains local engineers and contractors to repair and rebuild to safe standards.

In 2011, he formalized his effort by founding Miyamoto Relief, a non-profit organization that raises funds and tackles projects far more ambitious than he can do with his professional corporation.

"He has passion and commitment for using his knowledge to help communities stricken by natural disaster," says Phyllis Newton, a lawyer who has spent the last six months helping Miyamoto start the organization. "That hooked me."

While working for the last two years in Haiti, Miyamoto saw that although reconstruction of homes and infrastructure is occurring, schools are left out—so he is targeting schools. Newton says the group has just raised the $25,000 needed to upgrade its first school.