In the past 12 months, a total of 48 separate projects from 40 ASCE sections and branches have been undertaken from funding provided through its State Public Affairs Grants (SPAG). These innovative projects encompass community outreach endeavors, Engineering Week activities, state infrastructure assessments (report cards), civil engineering advocacy, various grassroots efforts to educate the public and legislators about the importance of investing in sustainable infrastructure, and competitions to construct wooden bridges.
All of the projects qualifying for SPAG funding have one important thing in common: through volunteer efforts they seek to achieve the goals set forth in The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025 by demonstrating how civil engineers can apply the principles of sustainable development and improve the quality of life in their communities. Each project benefits its community and shows that civil engineers are to be looked upon as leaders in shaping and maintaining the built environment.
Established in 1997, the SPAG program provides grants to help ASCE sections and branches undertake public relations or government relations projects at the grassroots level.
One Society achievement that triggered a number of SPAG applications is the 2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which meted out an overall grade of D and estimated that $2.2 trillion would needed over a five-year period to bring infrastructure up to an acceptable level. Many sections and branches developed projects that seek to give legislators, members of the public, and civil engineers themselves a better understanding of the condition of infrastructure and the steps that could be taken to improve it.
Here is a sampling of projects that have received SPAG funding during the past year.
The Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section had a problem: like many states, Massachusetts was facing a budget deficit, so how could section members effectively make the case for infrastructure investment to state legislators? Many sections have issued state report cards, and Boston considered doing the same, but in the end it came up with a much more innovative idea: a campaign that would respond directly to ASCE’s national report card.
“The [section’s] board . . . had discussed the development of a state report card at length and received a lot of push back from members,” recalls Peter A. Richardson, P.E., LEED AP, CFM, M.ASCE, the section’s president. “A lot of [section] members were very concerned that grading our state’s infrastructure would be viewed as an evaluation on the performance of the agencies that are responsible for the commonwealth’s infrastructure, rather than the condition of the infrastructure itself.”
Instead, the section developed a campaign entitled Raising the Grade in Massachusetts. As part of this effort, a four-page, professionally produced color brochure was disseminated to state legislators. The brochure talked about the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section and explained what civil engineers do. It also surveyed the condition of bridges, dams, highways, water and wastewater plants, and municipal infrastructure in Massachusetts and listed nine steps for improving matters: increase the state gas tax, deploy federal stimulus dollars for infrastructure projects, create a state infrastructure bank, address infrastructure maintenance and sustainability, fund the rehabilitation of dams, increase water infrastructure improvements, increase wastewater improvements, mandate qualification-based selection in awarding contracts for construction projects, and invest in comprehensive transportation solutions.
“Raising the Grade in Massachusetts was the perfect solution for us instead of a state report card,” says Richardson, a vice president of Green International Affiliates, Inc., of Westford, Massachusetts. “Our campaign uses the ASCE national report card to define the infrastructure problem at a national level and then cuts right to the chase by providing state-specific action steps to address infrastructure issues in Massachusetts.”
Richardson says that they had the perfect way to get these brochures in the right hands. Each May, the section participates in and cosponsors Design Professionals Day, an event held in Boston at the Massachusetts State House that also includes the American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Association of Land Surveyors and Civil Engineers. Much like ASCE’s Legislative Fly-In, this annual event provides members of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section with an opportunity to meet their legislators and discuss issues pertinent to the engineering community that also affect the citizens of the state. Now when a section member meets his or her legislators during Design Professional Day, the member can use the brochure to explain the need for more investment.
“The Raising the Grade in Massachusetts campaign has helped define the infrastructure issues in Massachusetts for legislators and has given them positive steps to take to address the problem,” says Richardson, who notes that the campaign began in 2009. “As a result of these efforts, [our section] has gained visibility for the civil engineering profession with the legislature and the public, where we strive to be seen as the stewards of infrastructure.
“We are leaving [state legislators] with something that is not too technical or with too much information but yet catches their eye and helps them understand the problem better. We also encourage them to call us and use civil engineers as a technical resource if they have a question about infrastructure.”
With funding from ASCE’s SPAG program, the section is now expanding the campaign, and it intends to enhance the brochure, make it available on its website, and revise the steps that can be taken to improve the condition of infrastructure in Massachusetts. The section is also using the SPAG funding to develop a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Failure to Act in Massachusetts” that will be used at conferences and in addresses to local business groups. The new version of the brochure will be presented to legislators at the next Design Professionals Day.
Richardson says the key to the success of the Raising the Grade in Massachusetts campaign is that it goes beyond looking at infrastructure failures and seeks to engage the public by outlining solutions through successful projects.
“The public looks to civil engineers and says, ‘We know that [infrastructure] needs improvement, but what is the best way to spend our money?’” concludes Richardson. “So it should not just be about [the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section] advocating the creation of construction jobs. We need to make sure we are doing projects that are going to benefit the economy in the long term, and I only think that happens when we get input and feedback from the business community, environmental groups, and the general public. Thanks to the generous SPAG from ASCE, the Raising the Grade in Massachusetts campaign is doing just that.”
“Politicians in Minnesota say, ‘We understand there is a problem with infrastructure in the state, but we’re not hearing much about this from the voters,’” says Thomas J. Eggum, P.E., F.ASCE, a member of the Minnesota Section and a senior consultant with TKDA, of Saint Paul, Minnesota. “And so we thought, well, let’s start educating the voters.”
Given the loss of life and the injuries caused by the collapse in August 2007 of the Minneapolis bridge that carried Interstate 35 over the Mississippi, people in Minnesota know firsthand what can happen when infrastructure is not properly maintained. But Eggum says that tragedy was not enough to spur state legislators to allocate sufficient funding for infrastructure.
Therefore, in 2009 15 professional and industry groups, the Minnesota Section among them, established the partnership Minnesota 2050, which, according to its website, seeks to foster “awareness in private citizens, in politicians, and in public agencies about the vast infrastructure network that supports the health, safety, and economic well-being of every Minnesotan. The initiative includes the importance of not only building infrastructure but of sufficiently maintaining it so that it will continue to support Minnesotans for the foreseeable future.” Those participating in the partnership came up with a three-phase plan: documenting the problem, crafting a message, and engaging the public. After carefully compiling information, the partners began work in 2011 on the second phase, and they decided that their message would be most effective if it took the form of a video. The video will produced with assistance from Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) and will be shown on that PBS channel.
“The video will be modeled after the video Liquid Assets, which was created by the [State] University of Pennsylvania and of which there was a Minnesota version—called Liquid Assets Minnesota, supported by a previous SPAG grant—developed and shown in prime time on TPT,” says Eggum, who represents the Minnesota Section on Minnesota 2050’s steering committee. As he explains, “Paralleling Liquid Assets Minnesota, the video is probably the most powerful, understandable media tool that we could possibly have, and it will make the issues easy to understand by the general public.”
Eggum explains that the video will concern itself with five facets of infrastructure: roads and bridges; water; wastewater and storm water; airports, ports, and waterways; and rail. After raising an initial sum and receiving SPAG funding from ASCE in 2011, Minnesota 2050 and TPT are moving forward with producing the first segment of the video, which will deal with roads and bridges. The other four infrastructure areas will be added to the video as funding becomes available. It is expected that the first segment will be completed later this fall. The Minnesota Section will make it available on its website by the end of the year, and TPT will air it early in 2013.
TPT is also planning to integrate aspects of the production into its current educational efforts in schools and in the Science Museum of Minnesota to acquaint students throughout the state with the challenges, opportunities, and rewards offered by careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It also plans to use the video to create new tools and approaches that could be used in schools and community centers to encourage students to consider careers in engineering.
“TPT tell us that the [technology and engineering] parts of STEM have not been given as much attention as the science and math parts and that, if they had a video like we are tackling, they could help get an engineering technology curriculum started in the state’s elementary and high schools,” notes Eggum. “And if [the Minnesota Section and Minnesota 2050] will recruit some engineering mentors to supplement that, we can also start teaching kids about engineering and technology so they would not only appreciate infrastructure but also actually become engineers.”
Eggum explains that when the first segment of the video is completed, Minnesota 2050 will formally begin the engagement phase, which he estimates should start early next year. This will involve training section members and other members of the Minnesota 2050 partnership on how to use the video to make effective, compelling presentations at public events.
“The goal of the video is to educate the public in Minnesota about the critical importance of investing in infrastructure so voters and business owners in the state demand action from their elected officials,” says Eggum. “Our legislators say they understand the problem. Well, now with the help of SPAG from ASCE, the voters will tell them this should be given priority attention.”
To give the general public and state legislators a better understanding of how civil engineers and ASCE work to ensure that society has the infrastructure it needs, the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch’s government affairs committee used SPAG funding to develop a five-hour seminar entitled Engineers and Politics: Workshops Empowering Engineer Advocates. The speakers who have appeared at presentations of the seminar include Randall S. “Randy” Over, P.E., F.ASCE, who won this year’s election and in October will formally become the Society president-elect. Over talked about how Society members can become leaders in formulating public policy. Serge Haddad
Los Angeles, like many other parts of the country, is experiencing funding shortfalls, drought conditions, water main breaks, dam failures, and high unemployment levels. The Los Angeles Section’s Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch therefore concluded that a coordinated lobbying effort was needed to enhance infrastructure investment in order to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of the public and improve the quality of life.
The members of the branch participate in an annual event in Sacramento patterned after ASCE’s Legislative Fly-In at which they make the case for infrastructure investment to California’s legislators. Moreover, the branch organized two events at City Hall at which branch members discussed the condition of the city’s infrastructure with the mayor and members of the city council. To mark these events, the City of Los Angeles proclaimed June 9, 2010, and October 14, 2011, as ASCE Day.
To give the general public and state legislators a better understanding of how civil engineers and ASCE work to ensure that society has the infrastructure it needs, the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch’s government affairs committee developed a five-hour seminar entitled Engineers and Politics: Workshops Empowering Engineer Advocates.
Presented by members of the branch, the seminar comprises five-one hour segments, or workshops, and can be completed in a single day. The first segment describes the goals set forth in The Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025 and explains the public policy ramifications of this vision. The second deals with financing and budgeting and looks at California’s past and present budgets. It also discusses how infrastructure projects are funded, how revenues are generated, and how to address budgetary shortfalls. The third segment explains what ASCE’s status as a 501(c)3 organization means in the area of political advocacy, and the fourth involves a panel discussion on how ASCE can realize its goals in the areas of civil engineering education and public policy. The final segment looks at how Society members can be proactive and make their voices heard in public policy deliberations. It also explains the process through which a legislative bill is written and offers tips to members on dealing with elected official and journalists.
“We really believe in Vision 2025 and were impressed that over fifty of our ASCE professional leaders got together at a summit in 2006 and developed an action plan, or a vision, of what the civil engineer should look like in 2025,” says Serge Haddad, P.E., M.ASCE, a member of the branch’s government affairs committee and a former branch president. “And number five in that vision is that civil engineers should be leaders in public policy, and then it goes further to list a number of tasks and tactics that we need to accomplish for that goal. So we [on the branch’s government affairs committee] took that message to heart and saw that as a call to action to say, ‘OK, we are given a destination by the Society but not the vehicle to get us there.’ So this idea came to us that we need to inform and motivate membership through an advocacy seminar. And this seminar would be a grassroots activity that specifically stresses the importance of actively advocating for the civil engineering profession.”
The goal of Engineers and Politics: Workshops Empowering Engineer Advocates, explains Haddad, is to give members a better understanding of ASCE’s work in the public policy arena, encourage them to assume a higher profile in the formulation of public policy, and help them become more effective in championing infrastructure in their meetings with legislators and the general public. The seminar was developed solely by the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch and its government affairs committee, and over the past three years it has been given on four occasions in the Los Angeles area and has also been presented in San Francisco, Bakersfield, and San Diego. The guest speakers and panelists have included Wayne D. Klotz, P.E., D.WRE, Pres.09.ASCE; Randall S. “Randy” Over, P.E., F.ASCE, who won this year’s election and in October will formally become the Society president-elect; Garland P. Rose, Jr., P.E., D.WRE, F.ASCE; and Carl L. Blum, P.E., F.ASCE, a former director of District 13.
“We’ve hosted it in conference rooms at hotels as well as at offices of engineering firms,” says Haddad, a civil engineer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “In Los Angeles we have gotten about fifty to sixty participants on an average to attend and about twenty to thirty have shown up at the seminars in San Francisco, Bakersfield, and San Diego. We’ve secured generous SPAG funding from ASCE and additional sponsorships from organizations and individuals who have contributed five hundred to a thousand dollars out of their own pockets, which tells me that companies and individuals are interested in civil engineers becoming more involved politically.”
Haddad says that the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch is offering the seminar to other sections and branches in California and hopes eventually to make it available to sections and branches around the country.
“We are ready to go today, and all we need from the section or branch are three things: a champion, a location, and a date,” he says. “Once we find a local champion and pick a date, they can help us advertise the event; we already have everything else organized. We have our seminar binders and we have our workshop speakers lined up [and our] workshop presentations prepared, so right now it just comes down to some section or branch that is willing to invite us.
“We believe the Vision 2025 is a call to action and with this seminar and the ASCE SPAG funding, we are working to accomplish the leaders in public policy aspect of the vision.”
Anyone interested in arranging a presentation of the seminar may contact Haddad at email@example.com.
The people of Joplin, Missouri, learned a number of lessons in disaster response in the wake of the 198 mph tornado that struck the city on May 22, 2011. Perhaps the most important of these is that 911 responders—police, fire, and medical—and crews from utility companies are quickly overwhelmed and that individuals who know what to do the first few hours after a disaster strikes may save lives, reduce injuries, and help communities make a quicker recovery.
The Washington State Emergency Management Division has implemented a statewide program called Map Your Neighborhood, which prepares neighborhoods to be self-reliant in the hours immediately after a disaster. In February 2001 this program proved its effectiveness after the Nisqually earthquake, which caused injuries and property damage in the Seattle area. Using the nine steps outlined in the Map Your Neighborhood program, people in the Seattle area were able to secure their homes and assist their neighbors before government help could arrive.
Civil engineers throughout the United States are taking the lead in helping communities rebuild after such disasters as the tornado that ravaged Joplin, Missouri, in May of last year. With aid from ASCE’s SPAG program, the St. Louis Section has brought Washington State’s Map Your Neighborhood program to Missouri and is conducting training sessions for individuals who will help communities and neighborhoods prepare for disasters. As of September 1, the section had organized more than 20 “train-the-trainer” sessions at schools, churches, businesses, fraternal organizations, and professional societies. Greg Hempen
Through infrastructure symposia and training sessions around the country, civil engineers are taking the lead in helping communities rebuild after disasters. With the aid of SPAG funding, the St. Louis Section has brought the Map Your Neighborhood program to Missouri and begun a “train-the-trainer” program throughout the state to help residents and communities prepare for and respond to disasters.
“Instead of just telling people that a tornado or an earthquake could impact them, Map Your Neighborhood is a great way to show people that they can do things even though a disaster’s damage has occurred around them,” says Greg Hempen, P.E., M.ASCE, who, together with Steve Besemer, an earthquake program manager at the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, is leading the Map Your Neighborhood program in the state. “So instead of waiting for government to come and help you out, this empowers people to be self-reliant during the first hours of disaster response.”
Hempen explains that Map Your Neighborhood provides people with a step-by-step process that groups of neighbors can implement to prepare for disasters. In addition to teaching individuals the nine steps to take immediately after a disaster, the program describes skills and equipment that can help with disaster response, illustrates how to create a neighborhood map that pinpoints the locations of all natural gas meters and propane tanks, and stresses the importance of establishing a neighborhood gathering site and care center and compiling a list of people in the neighborhood who may need extra help, for example, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and children who are home alone during certain times of the day.
The nine Map Your Neighborhood steps include such measures as shutting off water at the main input valve, placing a sign on the front door or window if help is needed, and putting the house’s fire extinguisher on the sidewalk.
“I am the Map Your Neighborhood train-the-trainer for the state of Missouri, and what I do is get this information to schools, churches, businesses, fraternal organizations, professional societies—like ASCE—by doing an orientation,” says Hempen, a geophysicist with the St. Louis office of the URS Corporation. “For example, I’ve gone to several state and county fairs and traveled down to Joplin. I give the one-hour orientation, but I also give an additional hour [presentation] so those people can become Map Your Neighborhood trainers themselves.
“And then I supply them with a CD and DVD that has all of the Map Your Neighborhood information that they need. This DVD is then played at a meeting of their neighbors and it tells them to pause the DVD at certain times during the meeting and do a task for five to ten minutes and then restart the DVD. That is the easier way to go through the ninety-minute neighbors’ meeting.”
Hempen says he has conducted 20 Map Your Neighborhood training sessions at various locations in Missouri since February. A total of approximately 400 people have attended his orientations, and he hopes the program will not only expand in Missouri but also extend to other states.
“Civil engineers are involved with disaster response, and they have useful knowledge to impart to the community,” says Hempen, formerly the chairman of the Missouri Seismic Safety Commission and currently a member. “And that is why I think as a civil engineering community we have a role to play in helping people understand what they can do when a disaster strikes, and Map Your Neighborhood is perfect way to do that. I very much appreciate that ASCE’s SPAG has allowed me to spread the word by training the people locally in the St. Louis, Missouri, area.”
When high school students give thought to their future careers, many are at a disadvantage in that they don’t know what civil engineers do. “I have gone to high schools to do PowerPoint presentations about the profession, and there are students in the classroom who think engineers are the guy who drives the train,” says Chris Carroll, Ph.D., A.M.ASCE, an assistant professor in the civil engineering department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “And I had other students say that they build stuff or they work on engines. So they have this mentality that civil engineering is more about being a mechanic or a carpenter.
“So my objective with the civil engineering outreach program is to go into Lafayette area high schools and inform these students about what engineering really is—not the Hollywood stereotype of the guy in black dress pants, the white shirt, the black tie, and the Coke-bottle glasses with a calculator in his back pocket crunching numbers all day—but let them know that being a civil engineer is fun and we do some really cool stuff.”
The Louisiana Section has used SPAG funding to develop an outreach program that is seeking to expose as many high school juniors and seniors as possible to the field of civil engineering by engaging them through interactive presentations and, at the end of the school year, a wooden bridge competition. The goals of the program are to offer an insight into what civil engineering is, promote the profession as an exciting career, encourage students to work hard in school, highlight the important role of teamwork in projects, and illustrate the link between engineering and economics.
The purpose of the Louisiana Section’s outreach initiative, which is receiving SPAG funding, is to expose as many high school juniors and seniors as possible to the field of civil engineering by engaging them through interactive presentations and, at the end of the school year, a wooden bridge competition. The goals of the program, explains Carroll, are to offer an insight into what civil engineering is, promote the profession as an exciting career, encourage students to work hard in school, highlight the important role of teamwork in projects, and illustrate the link between engineering and economics.
“The ultimate objective that I’m working on right now,” says Carroll, who developed the section’s outreach program, “is to eventually create a curriculum in the high schools that uses engineering-based problems to teach math and science in the high schools. Because many times it is completely backward; students learn math and science first and then all you ever hear in school is, ‘You will use this eventually in life.’ However, some teachers never tell you when you are going to actually use it. So what I want to do is use more wooden bridge competition–type projects in the classroom and not just as after-school projects to teach more geometry, algebra, and calculus.”
Carroll explains that he visits high schools in the Lafayette area and is accompanied by civil engineering graduate students. After a 20- to 30-minute PowerPoint presentation, he and the graduate students demonstrate bridge construction by using a bridge model made out of balsa wood, and they then test the strength of the model.
“I start off by explaining an analogy of a [National Football League] player doing bench press,” says Carroll, who so far this year has made 10 presentations. “I tell them some of the strongest people in the country are guys that can bench press two to three and a half times their body weight. OK, a book alone is four to five times as heavy as this balsa wood bridge, so I ask them how many books they think we can stack on this bridge before it breaks?
“They throw out all sorts of numbers: two, five, ten, and nobody ever gets close to what it actually holds. They can’t imagine that you are going to stack books close to the ceiling before this little, dinky bridge snaps. Then we do a demonstration with [software from the West Point Bridge Design Contest] in class.”
The second part of the outreach initiative is a wooden bridge competition that is based on a project used in the freshman program at the University of Tennessee and on the National Student Steel Bridge Competition, which is organized by the American Institute of Steel Construction and ASCE. Teams of four students build a 6 ft wooden bridge using only wood, twine, and cotter pins, and the bridge that holds the most weight wins.
“It was a tremendous success,” says Carroll of the competition held at the end of the school year in May. “We had seven teams compete, and the winning bridge was just unbelievable. The kids that won it were sophomores in high school. They designed a bridge that weighed about eight pounds and held about eight hundred pounds before it broke. It was phenomenal; everybody was just amazed as they watched it load.
“Overall, the students thought the competition was a real blast, and it was really interesting when we were testing the bridges to see the reaction on some of the faces of the students who built the bridges. . . . Before the competition started, we asked them a few questions about why they designed and built their bridge the way they did, and as an engineer you can almost look at it and sometimes predict how it is going to fail. You can tell the bridge is very well built and the hours they put in. But then you notice they drilled a hole too close to the end of the piece of wood; it would split that piece of wood and their bridge failed at two hundred pounds. It was interesting to see the reactions and how competitive some of them were. I almost bet that those kids will compete again at next year’s competition to redeem themselves.”