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UESI Presidents Letter for March 2021

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

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Member Value When a Community Comes Together

I moved to Texas in 1982 determined to never shovel snow again. I woke up at home in Austin, TX on February 15th to nearly 7 inches of snow on the ground and temperatures in the teens. Unlike the typical once-every-decade dusting that I had seen over the past 30 years, this snow stayed for a week. Turns out, all of south Texas made the same oath to never shovel snow again.

Texas was completely unprepared to respond. The most fundamental emergency planning and preparation had not conceived of such an event. There is no such thing as snow removal in south Texas, no plows, no shovels, no salt and all the sand is at the beach. We all watched (if we had power) as a cascade of unanticipated consequences played out, one utility service after another fell like dominoes. The power grid was the first to go and the rolling black outs did not roll as planned, when the power went off, it stayed off. With power down, access to the Internet and the ability to charge phones crippled communications. Water was next as the pressure suddenly declined to a trickle, the first boil notices went into effect about the same time as the first notices of disruption to the gas service needed to boil it.

Unique events that redefined life in 2020 seem to be on course to continue in 2021. The winter storm is a very intimate example of how dependent we are on utility infrastructure performing properly and how entwined and interdependent utility systems are on each other and the shared environment in which they operate. The storm also revealed those "essential" members of the community.

The natural response was to turn to one another, our neighbors, friends and family equally affected and connected as a community by the event and motivated to overcome the challenge through individual acts of kindness and generosity. As a member of the community impacted by the storm, I had a clear understanding of the things that were most valuable to the community; light, heat, water, mobility. I also gained an appreciation for the nature in which value was most effectively delivered within the community; personally, directly, individual to individual.

It is not a small step to draw a comparison between the Texas experience with the storm and our UESI community of practice. However, our community was established to give focus to this unseen, largely ignored, risky environment of entwined and interdependent systems of utility infrastructure: The tenuous condition and consequences of failure, not fully appreciated until something dramatic and possibly tragic happens.

I now see more clearly the importance of delivering value directly to individual UESI members in the communities where they practice and the local UESI Chapters where they gather. As the industry evolves and our professional community expands, delivering value to our membership is the key to growing and sustaining UESI. Our strategy is to empower local chapters to personalize the priorities and pursue solutions that are most relevant to meet the needs of their community.

I'm so grateful to be part of a community of people that share a common purpose and passion to do the right things, in the right way for the right reasons. Be kind, stay safe and protect the planet.

John P. Campbell, P.E., SR/WA, M.ASCE
UESI President