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In Engineering, Change Is Good

 

by Matt Anderson, P.E., CFM
Storm & Flood Products Manager

Earlier this year, a small, simple internet meme on Linkedin caught my eye.  The meme contrasted the present state of “What is” and “What we need” against a future of the state of “What could be” and “What should be.”   As I pondered this meme, a key unspoken element apparent to me is the requirement and ability to embrace change.  Change can be difficult.  Change is also known for being uncomfortable, stressful and fraught with uncertainty.    

US Infrastructure has struggled for attention over recent years.  This issue was most apparent recently in California with the eyes on the Oroville Dam bringing flood risk spending to the forefront.  With the NFIP funding issues (Milloy, 2016), or the future of the NFIP (Precise Leads, 2017) and the reauthorization later this year (Congress), there are just some critical elements that need our attention.   Almost two years ago, the State of Illinois found that “90% of urban flooding damage claims from 2007 to 2014 were outside the mapped floodplain.” (IDNR, 2015)

How do you address this crisis in US Infrastructure?  The current Mayor of Chicago in 2008 clarified an earlier comment by saying, “never allow a good crisis to go to waste when it's an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn't think were possible.”  Many occupations make giant leaps and bounds in the means and methods as ways to solve problems during or after said crisis. 

What prevents us from re-examining the means, methods, and regulations, that we, as engineers, utilize and rely upon to solve more problems than just conveyance? 

Over the past few years, I have had the ability to travel across the US visiting various customers and clients and reviewing the workflow for design projects.   This process was a deliberate, incremental implementation that focused on rapidly targeting smaller business goals into quick successes.  We asked tough questions about what matters, when, what do you need and why.   These tough questions help keep the focus on the problems – not on the tools used to solve the problem.

Too often we engineers limit ourselves to using tools and approaches that are familiar, despite the benefits available in alternatives.   As engineers, we leverage Maslow’s Gavel and fit all problems using a single solitary tool or workflow.  A book I read many years ago (The Machine That Changed the World : The Story of Lean Production) pushed me to step back, refocus on the problem and challenge the assumptions of “What is,”  so as to  begin to answer the question of “What should be.”

Have you asked yourselves these questions?  What hinders the inertia to consider what should be?

For example,  the most recent release of xpswmm/xpstorm 2017.1 includes the ability to perform simulations in parallel to save a considerable amount of time.  If you run four different storms with two design scenarios, the machine (if so equipped) could complete 8x faster than prior version.  The Solve Manager enables the ability to generate additional scenarios, therefore empowering the engineer with the ability to consider more design variability.  

By building a better understanding using simulations, it releases you to make better judgments for your projects.   What is your journey?  What do you see in the engineering world that "should be"?  I look forward to hearing from you.

REFERENCES
Congress. (n.d.). H.R.1423 - National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act of 2017. Retrieved from Congress.Gov: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr1423/BILLS-115hr1423ih.pdf

IDNR. (2015). The Report for the Urban Flooding Awareness Act. University of Illinois: State of Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Milloy, M. (2016, March 9). The NFIP is Due for Some Major Reforms. Retrieved from American Action Forum: https://www.americanactionforum.org/research/the-nfip-is-due-for-some-major-reforms/

Precise Leads. (2017, January 17). Reinsurance Funding Revives the NFIP. Retrieved from PreciseLeads.com: http://go.preciseleads.com/reinsurance-funding-revives-nfip

The Mecury News. (2017, March 22). Report: California faces significant flood risk and funding shortfalls. Retrieved from The Mecrury News: http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/22/report-california-faces-significant-flood-risk-and-funding-shortfalls/

 


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