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  • 1.  You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 16 days ago

    I was just at my barber and got a question that I'd guess a lot of us both love and dread to hear: "So, you're an engineer, right?" 

    He wanted to pick my brain about the tragedy at the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, and while I've been learning a bit about it in the last few days, bridges and port safety protocols are pretty far outside of my professional wheelhouse as a façade engineer. I want to make the most of the increased, but likely fleeting public attention on the profession & the resiliency and design of our infrastructure and I'm curious how you all approach conversations like that before full reports on the causes come out.

    How can we best communicate the big picture of how the industry mitigates risk of disasters, and how the public can help?



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    Renn Henry
    Staff Engineer
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  • 2.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 8 days ago

    Thanks for the timely question, Renn.

    I also dread those conversations that start with, "You're an engineer, right?" Nevertheless, the Key Bridge disaster offers a teaching moment that we shouldn't waste.

    Two things to communicate:

    A principle that both the public and many professionals need to better understand "composite risk" as the combination of two factors -- probability of occurrence and consequences of occurrence. While the probability of a ship hitting the bridge at just that point was only moderate, the consequences have been enormous, making it a high composite risk event. The Fukushima earthquake/tsunami was a high composite risk event for the same reasons. As a society, we do a terrible job of recognizing these disaster potentials because we lack that understanding. It would be instructive to look at previous Baltimore Harbor and Channels Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) to see if they identified potential safety threats to the bridge as a result of increased vessel sizes.

    A second issue arises from public behavior and our system's responses. The public notices and complains about traffic and potholes and politicians respond to those complaints, pressing public agencies to fix those issues. Consumers buy for reasons of price and quality and industry responds to maximize owner benefits. Both systems prioritize the visible and immediate over the hidden and long term. The Tragedy of the Commons is built in unless we take positive steps to correct it.

    What can we can do?

    • Continue to use the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card to educate the public and legislative bodies.
    • Teach composite risk management to engineers and anyone else who will listen.
    • Comment on any EIS that fail to fully evaluate public safety.

    Bill Mc



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    William McAnally Ph.D., P.E., BC.CE, BC.NE, F.ASCE
    ENGINEER
    Columbus MS
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  • 3.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 8 days ago

    Thanks for this Renn!

    Re: "How can we best communicate the big picture of how the industry mitigates risk of disasters, and how the public can help?"

    The engineering business managers who sit in the C-suite can do their jobs more productively.

    Example?

    Study this doc and have their various mangers use it PRIOR to experiencing problems.

    "ASCE MOP 73: Quality in The Constructed Project.

    A Guideline for Owners, Designers, and Constructors,"

    3rd Edition. 2012.

    It seems to be a "Roadmap" of sorts that offers various routes to complete each part of

    an integrated system of work.

    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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  • 4.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 8 days ago

    The Baltimore collapse focused attention on vital bridges. Thousands are in poor shape across the U.S., including in Pa.[1]

    Iowa has the most poor bridges, followed by Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri.

    By Associated Press David A. Lieb, Michael Casey, Jeff McMurray, and Christopher Keller   April 1, 2024

    Cheers,


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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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  • 5.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 8 days ago

    Could a large ship cause a Baltimore-like bridge collapse in RI? (providencejournal.com)

    One important distinction to make is that because the victims were repairing the bridge at the time, it was a jobsite safety issue.  Certainly there was a plan to protect the workers from motor vehicles.  Was there a plan to protect them from ship passage?  Should there have been?

    It is hard to speculate so early on in the investigation.  As a profession and society we can reflect on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge - Wikipedia disaster to see if the lessons learned from that were ever implemented.  We can check in on our own infrastructure to see if it needs attention.  Could a large ship cause a Baltimore-like bridge collapse in RI? (providencejournal.com) 

    We can talk generally about redundancy and alternate load paths - the case study being the Silver Bridge - Wikipedia collapse.

    Strength is but one design factor.  Are stakeholders being engaged to determine if all the criteria for design has been shared?



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    Chad Morrison P.E., F.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
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  • 6.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 2 days ago

    I agree it is both satisfying and professionally overwhelming to occasionally find oneself as "the spokesperson for all engineers" when someone asks the question. In general I usually open with "this is outside of my area of expertise" and try to use that as an opportunity to explain why that is. A lot of times, the details about the topic at hand might be forgotten, but the person I talk to might at least take away a new appreciation for the various types of jobs that exist within our field. 



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    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer
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  • 7.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 2 days ago

    The collapse of the FSK bridge was a tragedy, and the loss of life was unacceptable, but no one should have been surprised. As Bill Mc pointed out, this was a high-risk event. One just needs to look at a risk assessment matrix. Globally, there is a major bridge collapse due to a barge or ship collision every 1.5 years, and hundreds have been killed in the past decades. See https://apnews.com/article/bridge-collapses-barges-list-1f2d6261d523ddc625aaaf3b32c626bc

    Accidents usually happen because of the combined failure of the multiple layers of defense or controls and barriers to prevent failures from occurring. This is sometimes referred to as the Swiss cheese model of accident causation. 

    If asked about the bridge failure, I would acknowledge the tragedy and loss of life. I would also unfortunately acknowledge that these things happen and the cause will likely be a breakdown of the presumed controls and barriers intended to prevent such a collapse from occurring. 

    Also, to Bil Mc's point, the public must understand that budget limits, commercial pressure to compete, and political forces are also at play here. The public wants good jobs, low prices, and limited regulation, but it comes at a cost.

    As a side note, it would be interesting to learn more about whether this risk is treated on the ASCE infrastructure report card. 



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    Mitch Winkler P.E.(inactive), M.ASCE
    Houston, TX
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  • 8.  RE: You're an engineer right? Francis Scott Key Bridge

    Posted 2 days ago

    Re: "How can we best communicate the big picture of how the industry mitigates risk of disasters, and how the public can help?"

    Well Renn, If you re-read the responses above, you have . . .generally. . . . some perspective.

    Q. Wonder what we would learn regarding the system that allows such routine failure if

    we applied Kurt Lewin's Force-Field Analysis?

    Then, perhaps an interdisciplinary "National Infrastructure Quality & Safety Coalition" might be formed,

    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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