Polimom once knew a man who was offered an opportunity to design and manage the building of a critical dam. It was an exciting opportunity for this talented young engineer and his family, and preparations were well underway for a move – but at the last minute they didn’t go. Why? Because that engineer adhered to the Engineering Code of Ethics, and he felt that the project circumstamces were a danger to the safety of the public below the proposed dam.
He declined the opportunity, and some years later the entire project became such a catastrophe that the engineer who did undertake the job committed suicide.
From the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Code of Ethics:
II. Rules of Practice
1. Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.
a. If engineers’ judgment is overruled under circumstances that endanger life or property, they shall notify their employer or client and such other authority as may be appropriate.
Polimom wonders if anybody else sees a conflict with the Army Corps of Engineers and 1.a. above? Who does an engineer notify when their employer is the highest authority in the land?
Representatives of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Science Foundation said Monday that some of the problems they believe played key roles in the disaster – low engineering safety standards, lack of rigorous peer review and shoddy maintenance – are simply not tolerated by the corps when building dams, but are common place in levee projects.
How has this happened? Are levee engineers held to a different standard? Why?
In fact, the levee failures were the result of numerous factors, as ASCE President Dennis Martenson wrote in a society update March 10 (and Polimom wrote in December):
Based on the assessments conducted to date, we know that there was no single cause for the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and the tragic loss of life and property. Some parts of the system performed as designed, while others were simply overwhelmed by the force of the storm. Some were compromised by uncoordinated interaction by multiple jurisdictions, including levee boards, and long-time under-funding of maintenance and improvements. Several breaches, however, appear to have resulted from soil foundation failures and failed before their design capacity.
Merely rebuilding / repairing / redesigning the levees is not enough. The engineering profession needs to do some soul-searching on itself, and explain to us all how they’ve managed to stray so far from their own code, thus allowing the profound loss of life and property on the Gulf Coast.
And then, Polimom wants to hear how this profession intends to hold itself accountable in the future to the public it is supposed to protect.