Professional and Career Topics

  • 1.  Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-23-2021 06:22 PM

    I recently posted asking for feedback on how the Society's Calls to Action following Hurricane Katrina have been disseminated / implemented. The post generated a number of very informative and thoughtful responses – particularly on the US approach to flood management and how to improve - and I would encourage all to read. These calls to action were very much directed at organizations.  As an adjunct question, I'm curious as to views on the responsibility of individual engineers in situations that have the potential for flooding. As a thesis, I think individual engineers are oft presented with a conundrum: they are knowingly asked to develop and design for situations that could lead to flooding (directly or indirectly) under known circumstances but are working well within existing laws, statutes, and ordinances; as well as standards; and remain silent. The conundrum being if they don't do the work, someone else will.  A real life example for me was the residential development that took place within Houston's dry reservoirs. These reservoirs, normally dry, store water in the event of a large rain event. The development in question was outside the 100-year pool levels and not prevented by any existing state or county land use ordinances at the time. Structures within the reservoir boundaries were subsequently flooded in Hurricane Harvey, resulting in significant damage to property and anguish from unknowing property owners. More recently, the deaths and damage to property as a result of flooding from Hurricane Ida were heartbreaking. I have to believe that much of this was either known or predictable.



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    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 2.  RE: Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-27-2021 12:20 PM
    One more reason why we need to get behind transparent, readily accessible, high-quailty, property-specific pricing of flood risk for all properties. We must put an end to the harmful "false binary" that has distorted flood risk perceptions and decisions.   Property-specific pricing of flood risk will go a long way to improving property valuation, insurance, due diligence, and mitigation decisions on the part of owners. And it will also improve all the professions invloved in property development, investment, financing, and transactions.   Finally, it will be good for cost-effective public mitigation investments and community resiliency.

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    Robert Jacobsen P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Baton Rouge LA
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  • 3.  RE: Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-27-2021 10:23 PM
    The binary flood insurance pricing (are you "IN" or are you "OUT" of the the FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area (aka 100-year floodplain) goes away on Friday (October 1). "Risk Rating 2.0" is the FEMA name given to this (versus "legacy" for the program prior to now.)  The FEMA line will still apply to the mandatory purchase requirements, floodplain management requirements of the CFR, and local floodplain regulations. However, flood insurance will no longer go down dramatically for the structure just across the line. Elevation, distance to the flood source, etc. will be the factors in pricing flood insurance. So the false economy goes away, but it will still take local or state regulations to require disclosure of the risk outside the SFHA.

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    James Kaiser P.E., M.ASCE
    Infrastructure Engineering Manager
    City of Thornton
    Thornton CO
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  • 4.  RE: Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-28-2021 07:35 AM
    Risk Rating 2.0 is a nice little step in the right direction away from the false binary treatment of flood risk. But we are on the cusp of seeing much more. We will soon see estimates of the "full-spectrum" flood hazard curve for every property. And coupled with property-specific depth-expense estimates, we will see the full-spectrum $-risk and its equivalent Expected Annual Cost. And we will also see the Present Value of flood risk. All this I predict will be online sometime within the next few years, for every home. It's the logical next step from FloodFactor. This will help many homeowners a lot more than RR2, hurt some more than RR2, but in the end will facilitate better due diligence, insurance, mitigation, and resiliency.

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    Robert Jacobsen P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Baton Rouge LA
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  • 5.  RE: Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-27-2021 03:52 PM
    Mitch - I think it is a very good challenge that you raise.  Technical voices often get drowned out by competing interests (Challenger explosion a case in point), but I believe it is an ethical requirement for engineers to provide unbiased, technically sound dialogue.

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    Stephen Balint P.E, D.O.E, F.ASCE
    Balint Consulting LLC
    Houston TX
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  • 6.  RE: Individual Responsibility to Call out Flooding Risk?

    Posted 09-30-2021 10:58 PM
    The current reality for such matters broached above was caught in a recent post
    by a long-term P.E with decades of experience with public agencies:

    "This is what our current educational system teaches them. What it doesn't emphasize
    is that elected or politically appointed officials make the final decisions
    and the "best" engineering solution is not always the most politically palatable one."

    So again we are reminded that "It's the system, not the people" . . . P.E.s or not!

    Stay Healthy!
    Cheers,
    Bill

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    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880
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