Professional and Career Topics

  • 1.  ASCE Future World Vision & COVID-19 Impacts

    Posted 04-09-2020 09:59 AM
    ASCE has been working on the Future World Vision project and I am curious how the current events surrounding the pandemic might influence the project. For example, one of the worlds considered in the project is the Mega City. How can we design a Mega City that is more responsive to future pandemics? Obviously there are a lot of policy measures that contribute to fighting a pandemic, but are there also infrastructure elements that could be designed in a way that would make it easier to combat a tiny invisible enemy?

    I'd love to hear your ideas or thoughts on how civil engineers can begin preparing our communities now for future pandemics.

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    Kelly Farabee P.E., P.T.O.E., M.ASCE
    President, ASCE Savannah Branch
    Savannah, GA
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  • 2.  RE: ASCE Future World Vision & COVID-19 Impacts

    Posted 04-09-2020 12:19 PM
    I think this a great discussion topic!
    I might broaden the topic to not just infrastructure but the entire built environment.

    Will contact less technologies take off? - From a maintenance and upkeep perspective they are such a pain but will owners and buyers find the upside to be more necessary. We can probably take some benchmarks from the green building initiatives where heavy regulatory actions helped push this towards a social normative.
    Will high occupancy assembly space disappear? - perhaps for a while but given lessons from the 1917 Spanish flu society eventually returned towards assembly. there are also 1st amendment implications towards that topic as well. The benchmark, in my opinion, revolves around social normative behaviors. Since all most all of my work involves high occupancy assembly space I will be watching this very closely.
    For businesses, will the conservation of cash for times such as these outweigh the push for innovation?

    IMO, there is an increased need for basic and applied research. I hope to see this funded heavily in a post-covid 19 society.

    I welcome a variety of perspectives into this conversation.

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    Jesse Kamm PhD, PMP, A.M.ASCE
    Senior Vice President of Construction Management
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  • 3.  RE: ASCE Future World Vision & COVID-19 Impacts

    Posted 04-13-2020 08:06 AM
    Kelly,
    Thanks for this timely and important post.

    Our civil engineering code of ethics makes protection of the public health, safety, and welfare our paramount mission, and this notion has been at the heart of the Future World Vision project since its inception.  As engineers, we spend much of our time troubleshooting problems after they happen, and designing infrastructure based on recent past experience - the Future World Vision project aims to redirect at least some of our efforts towards anticipating future disruptive scenarios that could make the world look very different from the present and recent past.

    When we started the project in 2018, we analyzed hundreds of important trends that we thought could impact future infrastructure design - including the unchecked spread of infections in society, a GMO food disaster, and political instability on a global scale.  While no one can predict exactly how the future will unfold, it is instructive to consider these scenarios because we can evaluate strategies and investments in infrastructure against their benefits and impacts to public health and well-being.  The initial scenarios, and some of the data we considered, are summarized at www.futureworldvision.org.  We purposefully chose scenarios that explored different types of future outcomes - to stretch the boundaries of our imagination and challenge our notions of what the future could hold.

    Consider, for example, the "unequal enclaves" and "progressive mega cities" scenarios, which are almost opposite outcomes.  During this pandemic, a digital divide has already arisen where those who can work remotely can hunker down at home in remote locations, while others cannot work without access to safe and reliable transit into the city.  How will these events impact infrastructure development in the coming years?  Civil engineers must be at the forefront of research and decision making to ensure that we build resilient and sustainable cities with equitable access to healthy living environments.

    Phase two of the Future World Vision project, currently underway, involves the creation of virtual reality prototypes of five cities of the future.  The second prototype, the Mega City, is deeply rooted in the idea of a highly resilient and densely populated urban smart city.  Each engineer is invited to imagine their own potential solutions to important challenges presented by the Mega City, but here are just a few concepts that might address your question:
    - Deep investment in public health infrastructure and focus on human wellness in the design of all of our facilities and outdoor spaces
    - As an example of focus on wellness, highly efficient filtration and ventilation systems to ensure clean and healthy indoor atmospheres
    - Distributed medical testing technology, perhaps using autonomous robotic systems, allowing safe and rapid diagnosis of infections
    - Real time risk modeling to anticipate and isolate outbreaks using reliable health monitoring data (which of course also raises major privacy issues that we must debate)
    - Massively scalable health care infrastructure, such as modular interlinked buildings, to allow rapid response to major pandemics
    - Advances in autonomous vehicle delivery systems to allow for more effective food and supply distribution in the event of outbreaks
    - Adoption of robotic construction technology to allow construction, maintenance and repair of infrastructure
    - Planning to allow for universal access to clean, fresh air and outdoor spaces even in times of social distancing

    I hope others will post ideas to this forum, the team working on the Mega City is just now beginning to build out the districts of the city and would love to hear ideas from our members!

    PS:  For those interested in more reading on the topic of global risk and economic planning:   As a resource, each year the World Economic Forum publishes a "Global Risks Report" that we used as research for the Future World Vision Project, and that I personally have found useful in wrapping my arms around the myriad of risks that we face, and how we can be better prepared.  https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2020

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    David J. Odeh
    SE, PE, F. SEI, F. ASCE
    Principal, Odeh Engineers, Inc.
    Technical Region Director, ASCE
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