Perspectives: Problem Solving

By Marla Barnes

This year – 2015 – marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This category 5 hurricane made landfall in August 2005 and devastated the city of New Orleans, La. Breaches in levees around the city led to massive flooding. Hundreds of thousands of people in the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were displaced from their homes. Experts estimate that Katrina caused more than $100 billion in damage and nearly 2,000 deaths.

Last month, I was in New Orleans attending the Association of State Dam Safety Officials’ Dam Safety annual conference. Much of the discussion at the event was focused on what’s occurred in the past ten years … from a dam safety perspective … to ensure “resilence” when it comes to facing natural disasters like Katrina.

No one is saying these types of disasters can be completely prevented – another massive hurricane will occur. However, the way in which the risks of such potential natural disasters are assessed, the way in which pre-event preparedness is approached, the way in which recovery is addressed, and the way post-event adaptations/continuous improvements are made can change. In other words, better problem solving.

One of the speakers at the event, Steven Stockton, director of civil works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Katrina accelerated his organization’s focus on the use of risk techniques. Four years after Katrina, the Corps opened a Risk Management Center. This center of expertise is charged with managing and assessing risks for dams and levee systems across the Corps, supporting dam and levee safety activities throughout the Corps, and developing policies, methods, tools, and systems to enhance those activities.

“The Corps uses risk-informed decision making in almost every decision we make today, including operational risk assessments and condition-based assessments,” Stockton says.

The Corps is not alone in embracing risk techniques. The U.S.’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, and Canadian crown corporation Hydro-Quebec are just three examples of other organizations using risk-based decision making. At this year’s HydroVision International event, six of the 70 sessions focused specifically on the use of risk techniques by organizations throughout the hydro industry.

Risk-informed decision making is a major part of the current focus on the concept of “resilence.” Last year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) established an Infrastructure Resilience Division to develop a unified approach in advancing the concepts of resiliency within lifeline and infrastructure systems. ASCE says the Infrastructure Resilience Division will develop resources for improving the resilience of civil infrastructure and lifeline systems to all hazards.

I’m sure over the coming months we will all hear and read lots more on this topic of “resilience” and come to understand what’s involved in designing and rehabilitating “resilient” dams and hydro projects. However, in its simplest terms, I liken the idea of “resiliency” to problem solving … how to recognize a problem and then do something about it.

And, when it comes to problem solving, this edition of Hydro Review is full of great examples of the hydro industry doing just that. As you read, you’ll see how ‘shade’ balls, vegetable-based oil, underwater platforms, and You Tube are all being used to solve real-life problems in this industry (hint: check out pages 38 and 46 for details)! I’m always amazed at the ingenuity of this industry!

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor

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