ASCE recently received two grants from the United Engineering Foundation (UEF) totaling $125,000. The first grant, which is for $25,000, will be used to produce a webinar this year that will be entitled “Bridging the Gap between Climate Change Science and Engineering Practice” and will be free to members of the UEF’s founder societies. The second grant, for $100,000, will be used by the Society this year to develop a series of seminars on engineering ethics that will be conducted at universities and other institutions throughout the United States.
ASCE is one of the founder societies of the UEF, the others being the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, ASME, and IEEE. The UEF offers grants for projects that hold promise for advancing engineering or education.
The webinar will be developed by ASCE’s Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate (CACC), the mission of which is to evaluate the technical requirements for meeting the civil engineering challenges posed by a changing climate. The decision to develop the webinar grew out of the 2012 Carbon Management Technology Conference, which was held in Orlando, Florida, last February. There leaders of the UEF’s other founder societies asked ASCE to help them inform their members of the need for changes in engineering practice and standards to properly respond to climate change.
“Civil engineers and other engineering professionals, such as mechanical, electrical, and chemical engineers, need to understand how the changing climate is going to affect the demands on the engineering systems for which they are responsible,” explains Richard N. Wright, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, a member of the CACC and of ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability. “And they are going to need to get quantitative information to guide them in engineering the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and renovation of their infrastructure facilities. The purpose of this webinar is to alert the profession that we now face greater uncertainties than we have in recent years as to what the future environments will be and to point the engineer to some of the sources for guidance for decisions that have to be made.”
Wright explains that through workshops and committee meetings, the CACC has determined that studies carried out in connection with the National Climate Assessment, which is part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, as well as studies carried out by such groups as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, indicate that changes in climate will affect the performance of engineering systems and create new demands.
“It is necessary for us to make available to our members the information that they need to carry out their engineering work responsibly,” stresses Wright, who in addition to being ASCE’s liaison to the initiative known as Founders Societies Technologies for Carbon Management represents ASCE in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment. He notes that traditionally “we as engineers have based our design criteria on historical records, but [the scientists] are now telling us that the next one hundred years will not look like the last one hundred years, so we can’t be confident in basing our designs and other engineering decisions on historical records.”
The CACC is currently developing a white paper that will serve as the basis for the webinar and will describe the engineering design standards, regulatory processes, and planning and evaluation procedures that will be needed if infrastructure systems are to successfully adapt to a changing climate.
“The webinar is part of a wider effort [by which the CACC] plans to develop a continuing education course under ASCE that will be made available to civil engineers and others to provide a more detailed and more in-depth guidance on how to deal with issues of adaptation to climate change,” says Wright, who in 2012 celebrated his 60th year of ASCE membership. “So, there will be a white paper, which is basically a statement of what we know and a guide to the literature; the webinar, which will be an overview of this effort; and the continuing education course, which will allow people to study things in depth and develop their skills.”
The second UEF grant will be used to fund a series of ethics seminars that will be presented at several U.S. universities and other institutions throughout the year. The panelists will be distinguished engineers from a variety of engineering disciplines, and they will discuss their personal experiences on matters of engineering ethics and professional responsibility.
One of them will be Paul Munger, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, whose experiences while serving on the Missouri Board for Architects, Professional Engineers, Professional Land Surveyors, and Landscape Architects from 1974 to 1984 and again from 1995 to 2003 include the investigation into the collapse in 1981 of the walkway at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City, in Kansas City, Missouri, a tragedy that took the lives of 114 people and injured 214 others.
According to a report issued in 1982 by U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) entitled “Investigation of the Kansas City Hyatt Regency Walkways Collapse,” investigators concluded that one of the causes of the failure was a lack of proper communication between the engineering firm, Jack D. Gillum and Associates, and the contractor, Havens Steel Company.
“For some time I have been interested in that subject matter, and I still give a lot of talks to schools throughout the country about the Hyatt Regency failure and how future incidents can be prevented if the risk is reduced,” says Munger. “The question always comes up, do we still have a problem of engineering ethics and professional responsibility? And when we define ethics in engineering, it really describes the way that you are supposed to conduct yourself as a professional engineer.”
In addition to a one-hour presentation by the panelists, the seminars will include an hour for discussions and questions from members of the audience. The sessions will be videotaped for distribution to other educational institutions and associations, and edited segments dealing with particular topics will be made available on ASCE’s website.
“My hope is that students come away with some idea of what is expected of them and how to react as they get into decision making, where sometimes the answers are not black and white,” says Munger. “This is important because when I think back to my eighteen years on the Missouri Licensing Board, I would guess that ninety to ninety-five percent of all the complaints and issues were nontechnical in nature.
“The Hyatt Regency walkway collapse, for example, was a technical error, but there were an awful lot of nonprofessional, nontechnical issues that caused the failure, such as communication, how you deal with a client, what is your relationship to a client, and do you give in when a client wants you to do something but you don’t have the money to do it and have to come up with something that costs a lot less? How do you deal with those kinds of issues?
“So we will have people on the seminar panel who will have the kind of background where they can bring in case studies or their own personal experiences to say, ‘This is what happens, this is what you should probably be thinking about ahead of time, and this is whom you need to turn to if you need help.’”
Munger says that, along with the video, he plans to include tools, books, website links, and other resources that students can use at ASCE’s website.
“We have not determined all that yet,” says Munger. “But the idea is to get as much engineering ethics and professional responsibility information into the hands of the students as we can so that they have all the resources they need to guide and direct them.”