Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Personal observations ("ground-truthing") after major events

    Posted 09-05-2021 06:19 PM
      |   view attached
    By now, many of us have been exposed to some form of natural disaster or other kind of event that has impacted the built environment in which we live. The most recent one for me was having the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida hit Philadelphia and the surrounding communities (and states). Power was knocked out in many places and most notably in Philadelphia, heavy flooding was observed. Some of the most widespread images from the city included Interstate 676 (the Vine Street Expressway) becoming completed submerged by floodwaters. The result is that it had the appearance of a canal in Italy. Picture attached.

    Many of my friends and co-workers were able to take some time after the storm to walk the city and personally observe the different flooded reasons. Some had to do this for work purposes, but many did it strictly out of a personal interest.

    Have you ever gone out after an event that has impacted the world around you to personally try to view it? Do you do this out of interest to see "what everyone is talking about", or do you want to see if by viewing it, you can inherently better understand the world around you?

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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 2.  RE: Personal observations ("ground-truthing") after major events

    Posted 09-07-2021 09:56 AM
    Thank you for posting the photo.  This spired building on Vine Street was one of my projects!  I don't think I have ever experienced "remnants" as strong as Ida.

    Going to check things out can be dangerous!  With that in mind, I think flooding presents a unique perspective regarding disasters.  In Rhode Island, the great flood of 2010 stands as one of the worst in a century.  Driving home from work, I saw baseball fields flooded and had to detour around a flooded road.  I had to cross the bridge into Connecticut and go back over in order to get home.  I had never seen the water rushing so high or fast under the bridge, it was closed shortly after and reopened after inspection.  One cannot fathom how floods can happen anywhere, without warning until it is experienced first hand.  Places you would never expect can be flooded.

    So learning from hydrology class and keeping track of the weather patterns can provide some sense of warning.  We know that flows and floods can have a delay.  Snow and rainfall weeks and months before the event contribute greatly.  One big storm won't be an issue, normally.  It is an accumulation and rising water table.

    Westerly-Pawcatuck Bridge






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    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 3.  RE: Personal observations ("ground-truthing") after major events

    Posted 09-07-2021 05:48 PM

    Being respectful of the human and material tragedies associated with major events such as Ida, I think there's huge value for practicing civil engineers – regardless of specialty - to take stock of what happened and ask questions including why did it happen and could it have been prevented.  This includes site visits as safety and circumstances allow to get a full sense of the tragedy. In December 2005 I spent a day with a civil engineer friend of mine visiting the locations of major levee breaks associated with Hurricane Katrina. During our 'investigation' we drove and walked through entire neighborhoods that were abandoned or destroyed. While the experience certainly helped better understand what happened the bigger takeaway from the day was a tangible sense of the human and material consequences of when things go wrong and the importance of getting it right.



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 4.  RE: Personal observations ("ground-truthing") after major events

    Posted 09-16-2021 08:48 AM
    thank you for sharing and providing the insights. I grew up in Taiwan, which is a a hurricane and earthquake prone area. In my childhood, as the country was growing, many additions and mountain buildings were not permitted, so the structures did not stand well against natural disasters. But having worked in the field, I have not had the chance to witness aftermaths with a professional scrutiny. Thank you for sharing this humbling experience and topic.


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    Charles Ou-Yang S.M.ASCE
    Yorba Linda CA
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  • 5.  RE: Personal observations ("ground-truthing") after major events

    Posted 09-27-2021 08:01 AM
    On a much much smaller scale, a few times I've taken the opportunity outside of normal work hours to check out some of my project sites during or just after heavy rainfall. Designing detention ponds is one of the things I do on projects, so it is always interesting to see how it operates in the real world instead of just a model. There are so many assumptions that have to be made in hydrology and hydraulic design, so it's nice to see that the assumptions you've been making are sufficient and preferably an acceptable level of conservative.
    A few years ago there was some significant flooding that happened in my college town. We had some people share videos and photos with us from one of our former project sites on campus. I looked up the rainfall data from the closest weather station. The PE from the project plugged that data into the model from the project so we could compare the modeled pond elevation with what we could see in the photos. It was almost spot-on which was a great feeling.

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    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK
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