Skip to comments.Too Bad Hippocrates Wasn't an Engineer
Posted on 06/11/2006 9:53:40 PM PDT by neverdem
IN ancient Babylon, they knew from accountability. Under the Code of Hammurabi, "If a builder build a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built fall in and kill its owner, then that builder shall be put to death." What's more, "If it kill the son of the owner, the son of that builder shall be put to death."
Engineers these days don't have that worry. Mistakes may carry legal penalties and a measure of shame. The people who die are those who depend on the engineers' work.
Nearly 1,600 people died in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed. A June 1 report from investigators working for the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that flaws in the design, building and maintenance of the New Orleans hurricane protection system the levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates played a big role in putting 80 percent of the city under water.
Critics of the corps had argued for months that mistakes made the toll worse than it might have been, and they've alleged that there were more flaws in the system than the corps' report conceded. But with the admission by the corps, the tragedy of Katrina moved officially from the exclusive realm of natural disasters to that of disasters caused, in part, by man. John Barry, author of "Rising Tide," about the Mississippi floods of 1927, called the Katrina flooding "by a large margin, the worst engineering mistake in the history of civilization."
Thus do the dirt, concrete and steel of New Orleans take their place on the dishonor roll of engineering disasters. The list is long, and includes the failure of the Teton Dam in Idaho in 1976, which killed 11 people and caused an estimated $1 billion in...
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level?
Nawww,,,,,, we can do that!
I've heard that at one time parachutists in the service were dying because of improperly packed chutes. So they implimented a policy of making the parachute packers jump using one of the chutes they packed, picked at ramdom. It cut way down on chutes that failed to properly deploy.
I wonder what kind of engineering we would get if the lives of the engineers depended on the consequences of their poor design?
Too bad journalists and editors aren't held to the same standard engineers are. A good 99% would be in jail by now.
So you don't think that engineers drive cars, live in buildings, lived in New Orleans, fly on airplanes, ride on trains? They share the same risk of "poor designs" everyone else face.
I know engineers that have gone to jail for malfeasance.
For railroad bridges it used to be that the engineer would stand under it when there was the first [test] train driven across the bridge.
Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!
Live in a swamp
Die in a swamp
My liberal NYC enviro sister sez New Orleans will be under water within a certain number of years anyway
Why rebuild on below seal level land that sinks more as you add more weight above it and is surrounded by water?
Money wasted on bridge studies, water fountains, casinos, bribes -
If they had wanted to hold back the waters they would have copied the Dutch
But instead the New Orleans politicians and scammers went for the quick and dirty buck instead -
the NY Times had a hand in covering up the deaths of millions of people during Stalin's reign of terror. Since then, the NY Times has had a hand in bringing Castro to power, as well as in helping the North Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge come to power. I wonder what the penalty should be for a newspaper that repeatedly does things like that?
No. That was a political mistake. The engineering mistake was in determining the building and maintenance requirements (the first and fourth steps in most standard engineering projects).
When I was in the Navy operating nuclear reactors we had to periodically test everything to make sure that our equipment operated up to specifications. You never build something and expect it to last forever. In some cases it was difficult to test something by conventional means so alternate tests were performed (such as using radiography to test welds). But nothing was ignored.
Contrast this with the levees in New Orleans. How did they know (and certify) each year that the levees would operate to specifications? They didn't in reality. They just signed paperwork to make it look like they were. The most significant flaw was the settling of the levees and the sinking of the city so that the levees were overtopped. By measuring the height of the levees they could have determined if they needed to be repaired.
The biggest issue in this disaster is that the Army Corps of Engineers gave custody of the levees to the corrupt New Orleans Levee Districts assuming that since levee failure would hurt them the most, they would do a good job of making sure the levees were in specification. What a mistake!
Additional testing is more expensive. Perhaps New Orleans and the federal government wouldn't have bought the levees if they realized that. But that was a political issue. As far as I can tell, the initial design engineers did their jobs correctly. The maintenance engineers and politicians fouled this hole situation up.
We'd walk everywhere we go - for starters.
The levee wasn't designed to take a cat 5 hurricane straight on.
Those of us trapped in 56K dialup HELL really appreciate it!
What about the pics in comment# 1? Do they cause any grief?
I concur. The politicians didn't want to build one that big. But that isn't the primary issue with the New Orleans levee failure. The levees failed because the water level was over specification. That is problem #1. Problem #2 is that some of the levees had sunk below design specification.
As someone who had to evaluate operational failures I can't really say much about problem #1 other than to say you get what you pay for. On problem #2, which made this casuality worse, I would rip out the hearts of the maintenance engineers and politicians.
That one wasn't the fault of the engineer. The contractor made a change to the design of the sky bridge, which made it a lot easier to build, but much less capable of bearing weight.
"Then some damn fool finds a way to break it and gets a lawyer to sue."
Yup, not an ordinary fool, but a damn fool. Hence the expression "you can make it fool proof, but you can't make it damn fool proof."
That was one point of the Hammurabi code: if your building fell down, you would be buried in the rubble. But the other key to the Hammurabi code was that builders were given authority as well as responsibility. Instead of having to build according to tradition, they were given the right to build things right -- as they saw it.
Make it fool proof and in walks in an idiot.
I thought the levees failed because George Bush et al blew 'em up?
Journalists and lay people have a very poor understanding of risk and risk management. Engineers can build to any safety standard deemed desirable, but then society might not be able to afford it.
Doctors might be able to spend millions of dollars to keep one person alive with extraordinary care, but can't afford to do that for everyone. Engineers face the same dilemma every day. They can't afford to build everything "bullet proof" so someone has to decide how resources are allocated. Usually that someone is a politician holding purse strings who has no way to assess risk/benefit of most expenditures and therefore responds to political pressure from special interests.
Any idiot (yes, I include lawyers and journalists here) can can come in after something fails and assess blame. The hard part is looking at something BEFORE it fails and deciding if it needs to be fixed and how much the fix is worth.
The very best consulting engineers in the world make about $200/hour. You can go through the phone book in any Podunk town and find dozens of divorce lawyers who make two to three times that much. What does this say about our society? You want to come down hard on engineers? Prepare to get in line when you want a seismic upgrade on your apartment building, because bright people can always find a less risky and more lucrative way to make a living.
...not to mention beady-eyed contractors cutting corners when no one's watching...
likewise for Roman bridges as the army marched across
"Well said. A bit of engineer bashing going on here. What isn't said is that in the above mentioned examples it was likely a pointy headed manager that overrode the engineer's more conservative approach."
I agree with everything you posted except "pointy head manager."
Not pointy head manager. Pointy head politician.
Katrina was not a cat 5 when she made landfall.
One thing this article fails to address is the political corruption withing NO and the political pressure place on the CORP by the NO folks to not make waves.
Bump for later.
No, zoning board mistake.
That walkway at the Kansas City Hyatt was actually designed properly. The on-site construction manager modified the original design because one of the components used to support the walkway was very difficult to find and would have had to be custom-made.
Relatively speaking, a minor amount.
Most of the news portals are so graphic intensive anymore that it can (quite literally, I'm not kidding) take several minutes to download a story.
The beauty of the printer friendly version is that it has few, if any, graphics and downloads very quickly.
A pet peeve: news organizations that take a story and spread it over several pages so they can torture you with a new set of graphical ads on each page. Grrr!
The local newspaper recently redid their web site. There are now so many graphics and ads in Flash movie format that the site has become unusable for me. It takes, again, I'm not kidding, over FIVE minutes for the home page to load. And I have a "fast" dialup connection of 50.2 Kbps.
Sorry for the rant. Thanks for asking about the pix.
Take a look at the second photo in #1. (The water is draining back into the canal.) That levee wall also wasn't designed to take being rammed by the barge at upper right (now resting in a residential area -- outside the canal...)
"Is it possible that the engineering mistake was to choose to build a city below sea level? "
The Dutch seem to do ok.
"I can give it to you fast, cheap, or good. You pick two of the three."
In other words, real-world engineering is a matter of trade-offs. As a user, I'm willing to trade off "cost" to get it "fast" and "good". A manager and/or politician, however, may choose to trade off "good" to get it "fast" and "cheap".
As long as managers and/or politicians with little or no engineering knowledge control the purse-strings, there is a risk you will see shoddy engineering fielded. Remember the Pinto? Goldin's "Faster, Better, Cheaper" plan at NASA?
Nothing in engineering (or life for that matter) is risk free.
In ancient New York, they knew how to speak and write the English language.
As an engineer who does drive the vehicles he designs, as most do, I can only wonder what kind of engineering we'd have if someone like YOU were an engineer?
The Ford Pinto comes to mind...
And a structual engineer signed off on the change.
BTW he did'nt make it much easier to build. He made it possible to build. The original design featured metal rods threaded for a good 15 meters. A tricky proposition at best.
politicians are managers with even less sense of responsibility for their actions and even greater inflation of their sense of self-importance.
What did the Code of Hammurabi say about those committing treason against their own country, such as the NY TIMES?