Engineers Week 2007


Engineer’s Week Celebration –2007

By Gerard Hillenbrand, P.E.

The annual Engineer’s week celebration was kicked off this year with a major reception held at the Dibner Library building at Polytechnic University in downtown Brooklyn on Thursday, February 15, 2007. The Metropolitan Engineering Society Council, an umbrella group representing 25 engineering organizations practicing in the New York City area organizes this annual reception. This Year’s celebration was distinguished by the support of ten prominent engineering and consulting organizations in N.Y. City and their sponsorship and support is greatly appreciated by the organizing council. Approximately 100 guests attended this celebration and more than 30 of these attendees earned credit for 2.0 Professional Engineering Development hours in accordance with recently mandated requirements issued by the N. Y. State Department of Education.

This celebration opened with a delicious dinner reception after which the guests moved into the Dibner Library auditorium for the technical program. Mesc Chairman Wasyl Kinach, P.E., welcomed all guest and then introduced Jerry McArthur Hultin, Polytechnic University’s President, who briefly summarized his school’s initiatives in the areas of urban problems and transportation systems, health science, and digital technology. Mr. Hultin also reported that, as a result of his university’s engineering and scientific innovations and aggressive patent protection policy, royalties totaling $365,000 were received last year. Mr. Hultin emphasized that Polytechnic University is receptive to all proposals for engineering development and innovation. Feel free to contact the school at any time. Mr. Kinach then summarized Mesc’s efforts to promote our profession such as the display of three banners in New York City and also the promotion of an initiative by the American Engineering Alliance to create the office of Deputy Mayor or Infrastructure in our city’s government.

George Golovchenko, P.E., Mesc program chair, then introduced Fatma M. Amer, P.E., Deputy Commisioner and Chief Code Engineer of the N.Y. City Buildings Department, who presented Mayor Bloomberg’s proclamation of Engineer’s week – February 18 to 24, 2007. Ms. Amer updated the guests on the status of the new model building code, which has been in formulation for submission to the N.Y. City council in April 2007, hopefully to be enacted in June 2007 and to become effective in July, 2008. This model code stresses innovative building techniques, more stringent safety requirements, and cost savings parameters. This model code will replace the existing 1968 code and has been prepared with the input from more than 400 consultants, engineers, and construction practitioners. In her editorial comments M. Amer criticized the modern trend which uses trained managers to replace engineers in certain key positions. Ms. Amer stated definitively hat, in her experience, engineers make the best managers. This comment produced the most sustained round of applause heard during the evening.

Next on the program, Edward S. Sawchuk, P.E. Vice President of Polytechnic’s alumni association presented its distinguished alumnus award to N.Y. State Senator Frank Padavan of Queens, a 1955 electrical engineering graduate of the university. Senator Padavan, the only graduate engineer serving in the N.Y. State legislature, worked for the Westinghouse Electric Corporation for 14 years and then for the N.Y. City Building Department for 4 years before entering elective politics. Senator Padavan is a reserve Colonel in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and has used his engineering expertise to bring several major structural projects to his district including the massive vehicular interchange in Bayside, Queens and at least three new public schools in conjunction with the school construction authority. In his acceptance remarks Senator Padavan put his formal speech aside in the interests of brevity but urged all engineers to continue to ask all the right questions emphasizing logic, clarity, and public safety in their work. Senator Padavan emphasized that there is a great need for more engineers in government but only after working in industry to obtain invaluable practical experience. The senator concluded his remarks by referring his listeners to former President Herbert Hoover and his reflections on the joys and privileges of engineering, which provides true career accomplishments and satisfaction.

The annual Elmer A. Sperry award for advances in the art of transportation engineering was presented to the family of the late Dr. Victor Wouk. Dr. Wouk pioneered the development of electric power and batteries for automobile propulsion as well as the popular Hybrid Drive Vehicles, which provide efficient and economical operation of automobiles in this age of high-energy prices. In the 1970’s Dr. Wouk built the first full size hybrid automobile, which met government emissions standards but commercial viability proved unattainable because of the availability of inexpensive gasoline. Dr. Wouk obtained many patents on his developments and published over 100 technical papers during his career. He can truly be designated a transportation visionary. Dr. Wouk’s wife accepted the award in the name of his children and grand children and also conveyed the thanks of Dr. Wouk’s brother, the author Herman Wouk, who resides in California. The Wouk family also pointed out that Dr. Wouk also developed a little known but vital technique to eliminate static electricity buildup in gasoline thanks – an enormous contribution to public safety. Elmer A. Sperry himself was a distinguished engineer and inventor who is noted for his innovations in electric generation, lighting, machinery and transportation as well as gyroscopic equipment for control and stabilization of ships and aircraft. Dr. Victor Wouk was a most worthy heir of Elmer A. Sperry.

ASME representative Burt Dicht next invited the guests to participate in a major convocation on fuel cell technology to be held in downtown Brooklyn during June 2007. Finalized details will be announced in future publications.

The keynote address was entitled “Preparing for N.Y. City’s Katrina”. This was delivered by Dr. Malcolm J. Bowman, P.E., and Dr. Douglas Hill, P.E., both of whom are members of the faculty at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, Long Island, where they do research at the Marine Sciences Research Center. The probability that N.Y. City will be struck by a major hurricane is almost certain as is the inevitability of loss of life, property and infrastructure resulting from the storm’ effects. However, building movable barriers strategically located in the waterways surrounding the city may minimize these effects, and the speakers presented a slide presentation of computerized modeling defining their proposals.

The major hurricanes of 1938, 1950 and 1992 produced storm surges as high as 18 feet in and around the waters of N.Y. City and Long Island where coastal flooding was common. These category (3) and (4) storms lasted approximately 24 hours while some winter “Northeaster” storms, category (1) and (2), can last more than two days and produce storm surges as high as 5 and 10 feet, respectively. During the past century sea levels have risen about one foot on the average and this trend is expected to increase due to the added effects of global warming, possibly a 3 foot rise by 2100.

The construction of barriers to mitigate the effects of storm surges has taken place in various parts of the world during the last half century. In the United States, high stone and rock seawalls were completed in 1966 at Providence, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts. These barriers, as long as 8 miles, have auxiliary pumps for sediment elimination and vertically pivoting gates in seawall gaps for excess water relief. A movable barrier was completed in 1968 at Stamford, Connecticut in which the structure rests on the river bottom and is raised during a storm surge flood to block the water from reaching inland.

Barrier construction in other countries is more sophisticated. In Holland, where a 1953 storm surge flood killed more than 1900 people when the dikes were ruptured, a major dike reconstruction was completed in 1958 and by 1986 major dam structures with pivoting gates were completed. In 1997 these protective barriers were added to the areas around the city of Rotterdam. In London, England, in 1982 a barrier was build one third of a mile long across the Thames River utilizing rotating gates which block the rising water during surge periods and allow sediment relief when necessary. To prevent the inundation of the historic city of Venice, Italy, a barrier is being constructed across the Lagoon and is scheduled for completion by 2010. This barrier, normally resting on the lagoon floor, is pivoted upward into blocking position by air operated mechanisms pivoting relief gates are also included. The difficulty with all this world wide barrier construction is that it occurred after delays of 5 to 44 years after the disastrous floods. All these efforts were too late; the damage had been done. The remedy is to build barriers before the anticipated surge floods.

The development of preemptive measures is the impetus behind the development of the Stony Brook Storm Surge Computer Model which uncovered the little known fact that storm surges along the east coast of the United States intensify in the areas around Long Island. During hurricane Floyd in 1999 the eye of the storm passed over the center of the island resulting in localized flooding along the South Shore, Jamaica Bay and Kennedy Airport. Computer studies showed that with a storm surge of 26 feet, one-half of Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn would be under water. The study did not include the effects of climate change, which in the future would add as much as a foot and a half to the height of the surge. The study also showed dangerous flood currents in the East and Harlem River Basins, in Long Island Sound, around Riker’s Island, Hell Gate and LaGuardia Airport as well as along the Narrows Waterway. The study also considered the effects of a storm surge on 115 hours duration and height of 18 feet during which the narrowing of Long Island Sound from east to west maximized flooding around northern Queens and the South Bronx. The study also included the effects of localized flooding due to rainfall runoff and the accumulation of torrential rains behind any barriers that may be constructed.

As a result of these computer studies, the speakers are promoting the following conclusions:

  • A minimum of three barriers (at the Battery, along the Narrows, and in the East River) would be necessary. A fourth barrier, by Perth Amboy in New Jersey, might also be desirable.
  • Engineering feasibility studies are required to optimize the design of each barrier. The actual location of the East River barrier will prove to be highly controversial. Barriers should be designed to provide 45 hours of minimum closure, taking into account tidal surges of from 6 to 9 feet in the areas around N.Y. City.
  • A reliable early warning system must be developed to predict the oncoming floods and water surges.

Public awareness must be raised to the severity of the problem. Also multiple government agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, must become involved. Local insurance companies should also be consulted.

  • Further computer models, such as those emphasizing the Hudson River Basin and the New Jersey shoreline, should be developed.
  • Using the criteria of $15 Billion expenditures already made in Holland, the total cost of such a proposed barrier system may be as high as $200 Billion.

The speakers emphasized, in conclusion, that we consider, once again, the potential serious loss of life and irreplaceable infrastructure if we do not respond intelligently to the di9nager posed by a category (4) or (5) hurricane to the city of New York. The meeting was concluded with the usual question and answer period, after which the guests enjoyed deserts and coffee compliments of the Polytechnic University Alumni Association.

Yes, Engineers do indeed make a world of difference!

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