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"Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties."
-- Fundamental Canon 1,
ASCE Code of Ethics
ASCE and its members, the nation's civil engineers, have been watching the unprecedented oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with grave concern. Unlike most natural disasters that are one-time events followed by cleanup and recovery, this catastrophe and its environmental impact continues to unfold. While efforts to halt the spill and to restore shorelines and wildlife remain in the hands of the federal government and BP, ASCE will continue to monitor events.
Letter sent to White House offers assistance
In a letter sent June 22 to President Obama, the Society said it "stands ready to assist the government" with engineering experts, including those in the Coasts, Ports, Oceans and Rivers Institute, in finding solutions to the Deepwater Horizon spill and to effective cleanup of affected shorelines. The members of COPRI offer "scientific and engineering knowledge in the sustainable development and protection of our coasts, ocean waters, ports, waterways, and wetlands," wrote ASCE 2010 President Blaine D. Leonard, P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, on behalf of the Society. The letter also endorsed the administration's efforts to reform design requirements for offshore wells. Read a PDF of the letter.
Responsible civil engineering practices account for disaster risk
Although the spill is an environmental catastrophe unlike any in U.S. history, decades of major disasters have taught civil engineers of the value of understanding risk and the consequences of not being prepared. In its leadership role for the profession, ASCE works to enhance disaster risk management practices, and to encourage their use.
• Produced last year, ASCE's Guiding Principles for the Nation’s Critical Infrastructure includes as the first of its four principles, "Quantify, communicate and manage risk." The guide also strongly urges greater adoption of risk management strategies: "A major shift in thinking is needed within the critical infrastructure sector to make risk analysis, management, and communication the standard basis on which projects are developed and implemented." Download a PDF copy.
• ASCE's aspirational Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025, issued in 2007, expressly calls on civil engineers to serve society in part as "master managers of risk and uncertainty caused by natural events, accidents, and other threats." Vision 2025 sees "civil engineers … at the forefront in developing appropriate approaches and designs to managing and mitigating risk." Download a PDF copy.
• The follow-up Achieving the Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025, produced last year, lays out 15 tactics for encouraging responsible risk management in engineering, including "Embed risk assessment and risk management methodologies as a core knowledge and skill for civil engineers throughout their education and practice; promote regulatory and business policies that encourage constructed resilience; [and] promote business and contractual relationships that encourage planning, engineering, design, construction, operation, and maintenance for resilience." Download a PDF copy.
• The Society actively promotes disaster risk assessment and mitigation planning with active committees that study and encourage their use, and in joining alliances that research disaster preparedness. Learn about each.
• Last year, ASCE published Disaster Risk Assessment and Mitigation, a guide covering natural hazards and how to reduce their effects, built on the lessons learned from the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand. Order the guide. ASCE also offers other guides on disaster management of infrastructure, including Infrastructure Risk Management Processes: Natural, Accidental, and Deliberate Hazards, prepared by the Risk and Vulnerability Committee of ASCE's Council on Disaster Risk Management. Order the book.
• ASCE's comprehensive report on the Hurricane Katrina disaster, What Went Wrong and Why, produced in 2007, contains this call to national action: "We must place the protection of public safety, health, and welfare at the forefront of our nation's priorities. To do anything less could lead to a far greater tragedy than the one we have witnessed in New Orleans." Download a PDF copy.
ASCE's journals, papers and articles provide specific guidance
The Society has published scores of detailed, critically reviewed journal reports, conference proceeding papers and other articles on oil spill remediation and prevention, written by civil engineering experts drawing on their knowledge, experience and insights. Some 20 years of reports have been digitally archived by ASCE, available for downloading online. See a selection of the reports most relevant to the current oil spill and how you can order them to read and review right now.
To volunteer when your help will be needed
• The official Unified Command response website includes a page with toll-free phone numbers and links to affected states' volunteerism pages; keep in mind that you might not be called on to help immediately.