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How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

  • 1.  How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 26 days ago
    I'll ask the question which is on many people's minds: how are engineering firms dealing with the coronavirus situation?  With no vaccine for this novel virus available for at least a year and no large-scale lockdowns in the US yet, I'm expecting that the situation will get substantially worse before it eventually gets better.

    Are engineering firms preparing for people to work at home?  What kind of technology investments is that involving?  How will work be coordinated in that situation?  What policies are being adopted to prevent spread of the virus in the workplace and through work-related travel?

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 2.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 25 days ago
    Firms in New England are canceling meetings and events.  Working from home is a good option.  I think the most critical technology is use of VPN portals to access servers.

    I received an email from Hilton today with guidance and updated policies.  When traveling you need to depend on the airlines and hotels to communicate your role and responsibilities.  If you are not comfortable traveling, you need to speak up, but if agencies have not enacted flexible policies, be aware, you may loose money and travel insurance may not reimburse you.

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    Chad Morrison P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 3.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 25 days ago
    I think there's a lack of understanding, and maybe denial, about the magnitude of this problem, and so far engineers don't appear to be an exception to that.  The lack of responses so far in this thread reflects that.  Here's a perspective on the dynamics of the situation which engineers should be able to understand:

    https://necsi.edu/gradually-then-suddenly

    We engineers should be able to look at the data objectively and forecast scenarios of what may happen, rather than falling prey to normalcy bias:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normalcy_bias

    In my company, we're gearing up for people to be able to work from home.  We're fortunate that the nature of our work makes that possible.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 4.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 24 days ago
    Irfan, I 100% agree and thank you for bringing this up. While I don't believe there is cause for panic, strong and consistent measures should be put in place quickly, even immediately.

    Governmental action is largely out of our hands, except perhaps through contacting our representatives.

    However, institutionally, we should prepare for severe disruptions for a few months, and lagging disruptions for about a year (what if a client or supplier goes out of business?). An immediate response to promote social distancing among the people we influence is critical, e.g., encouraging working from home, allowing absences without penalty or use of sick days for people presenting any symptom, even some free paid time off for people to care for dependents (children out of school or sick family members). Previous experience in disasters suggests that one of the most important factors in weathering disasters well is strength of community. Although the best time to build community is in the years previous to an event, now is the time to reach out, within personal and professional networks, to solidify existing relationships.

    At my university, which has already canceled face-to-face classes, I've had little success with this argument. I attribute this to the normalcy bias you previously mentioned and the immediate focus on transitioning to an online mode. It is difficult to make drastic decisions when things still look OK.

    Here is one more article that addresses the issues of exponential growth and delay with specific data for this pandemic: https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca

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    Tonatiuh Rodriguez-Nikl Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE
    Cal State LA, Department of Civil Engineering
    Los Angeles CA
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  • 5.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 24 days ago
    Tona,

    Thanks for sharing that link.  Here's another analysis which reaches the same conclusions: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/10/simple-math-alarming-answers-covid-19/.

    Totally agreed that we need to immediately take much stronger action, similar to what China and Italy have done, to block or at least greatly slow the spread of this virus.  Cancelling events, closing schools, etc. is helpful, but it's not enough, as I fear we'll discover in the next week or two.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 6.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 23 days ago
    We are a small consulting firm so we have split our staff into two teams.  Each team works from home every other day allowing 2 or 3 days in the office for site visits and whatnot that can't be done at home.  This will allow us to self quarantine one whole team if anyone gets sick while the other team could continue keeping the doors open.  We all need to do what we can to flatten the curve.  And if you aren't taking it seriously yet, you should.

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    Larkin Myers P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Tioga Environmental Consultants, Inc
    Memphis TN
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  • 7.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 17 days ago
    I've heard of a lot of different companies utilising this strategy, however, unless you're doing a deep-clean disinfection of your offices between every shift change, you run the risk of cross-contamination in the office. Research is showing that the virus is persistent on a variety of surfaces for days, so even though you're not in the same space at the same time with someone who's contagious, if you're touching the same doorknobs, light switches, copy machines, coffee makers, etc., you run the risk of infection. Granted, a lot of that can be mitigated by following CDC guidelines for good hygiene: Frequently washing one's hands for at least 20 seconds, coughing/sneezing into a tissue or the crook of one's arm, etc.

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    Joel Dixon P.E., M.ASCE
    Project Manager
    Oklahoma City OK
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  • 8.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 16 days ago
    In my firm, we came to the conclusion that teleworking is currently the only reliable way to prevent transmission of the virus between co-workers.  Current estimates are that about half or more of the people who are infected and contagious have minor or no symptoms, which may resemble colds and flus, and those infected people can therefore unknowingly transmit the virus to 2+ people on average.  As Joel notes, the virus can remain viable on surfaces for hours to days, and while there isn't currently strong evidence that transmission through objects is a common mode of transmission, there also isn't strong evidence that rules out that possibility.  Engineers should be able to relate to the principle "better safe than sorry."

    If we had tests to determine who actively has, or previously had, the infection, people with no active infection or a past infection could return to working in offices, but of course those tests still aren't widely available.  The health and economic impacts of this virus in the US are greatly increased by the lack of availability of testing, and it's a shame that we didn't use the tests already developed in Germany and other countries and used around the world for many weeks.  This was a bad time to try to reinvent the wheel.

    In my firm, our teleworking has been going fairly smoothly, and by making full use of the available technology at home (dual monitors, remote access software, 11x17 color printers/scanners, conferencing software, etc.), we're operating at 100%+ of our prior capacity, and we're doing some things even more efficiently than before.

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    Irfan A. Alvi, P.E., M.ASCE
    President & Chief Engineer
    Alvi Associates, Inc.
    Towson, Maryland
    www.alviassociates.com
    ialvi@...
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  • 9.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 25 days ago
    Our office had everyone start telecommuting a couple weeks ago.  We check in with our supervisor in the morning on our work tasks and report back at the end of the day on what we accomplished.  We participate in meetings through Skype.  IT had to help get some staff up and running so they could connect from home.  I find I get more done designing on CAD and updating assets on GIS when I'm not at my desk at work - interruptions and getting pulled aside to answer questions for colleagues can be disruptive at times.  One challenge we have is figuring out how to access vehicles for field visits if we're not in the office.  But so far it's working really well; and we are all in touch but staying isolated.

    BTW:  I work for King County, in downtown Seattle.

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    Daniel Dovey P.E., M.ASCE
    Traffic Design Engineer III
    King County DOT
    Seattle, WA
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  • 10.  RE: How are engineering firms handling the coronavirus situation?

    Posted 19 days ago
    Q.1. "How are engineering firms dealing with the Coronavirus situation?,"

                                                   AND,

    Q.2. "How are * the people * in our public and private sector engineering organizations dealing with both
            the professional AND personal impact of these "Accidental Sudden Impacts" in their personal
           and professional daily lives?"

    "Accidental Sudden Impacts" include, but are not limited to school age children now have to stay at home,
    face-to-face meetings have 'overnight' become video conferences, and going forward most collaboration, communication, and cooperation
    will now move mainly to the "Age of Cyberspace." Then there are the contracts for services with penalty clauses.

    And if I may dare to say, how are you, me, your loved ones. . . .all of us...us dealing with the glaringly obvious but publicly suppressed stress each and
    all of us feel, but, thinks its not so cool to say OUTLOUD?

    REFLECTION
    If your car suddenly made unfamiliar noises, you would not hesitate to take it right now to a professional who had the credentials to properly help fix it.

    And yet, so I am told, when our men . . .yes, involves some of our women as well . . .feel "Internal unfamiliar noises" we immediately go to the "Hey, I can handle this!" mode.

    Interestingly, we have confidence we can handle "Indeterminate Structural Analysis" with the usual caveats. Matter-of-fact, we even write papers to publicly share our findings.

    Q. Wouldn't it be great if we could stop pretending "I'm ok, you're OK," and support each other by sharing what and how we are doing and experiencing to ramp up to
    new perspectives for familiar challenges?

    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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