Thursday, July 21, 2016

John Scully offers lessons from Flint in NAE's The Bridge

Each issue of the National Academy of Engineering publication The Bridge features articles by leading engineers and scholars on a chosen topic. The most recent issue addresses challenges at the interface of technology and policy. Among them is a timely article by John Scully discussing the critically aging US infrastructure, entitled "The Corrosion Crisis in Flint, Michigan: A Call for Improvements in Technology Stewardship."

One of the main lessons from the Flint calamity is that past lessons were not learned.

Scully explains that casual reliance on rote standards will likely not prevent the next crisis from escalating to calamity any more than finger pointing or passing knee-jerk legislation, but rather
technologists and policy makers would benefit from having better decision making tools: better data integration and modeling via advances in big data, simulations for better risk management, cyberphysical systems for faster, more accurate data aquisition, and better financial managnement tools to calculate where investments need to be made. 

He suggests that:
"A more proactive approach to technology stewardship, risk assessment, and public policy practice is recommended, drawing on lessons from previous experiences and supporting timely, data-driven decisions and actions by well-informed authorities. Without such cultural and behavioral change, there is the risk of repeating technological mistakes and encountering disasters again and again with enormous costs in public health and public trust and at great taxpayer expense"

The Bridge is a quarterly publication of the National Academy of Engineering distributed to roughly 6,500, including NAE members, members of Congress, libraries, and universities. As such, The Bridge is a preeminent forum in which to raise awareness of the role that corrosion science plays in addressing the broad health risks, enormous societal costs, and productivity losses associated with infrastructure corrosion, and the tools needed to mitigate and manage risk.

In the issue's introduction, Bridge editor Ronald Latanision recounts Steve Kroft's plea at the 2016 NACE conference that corrosion engineers clearly and more vocally communicate to leaders and policymakers that "the cost to fix or prevent infrastructure degradation is less than the cost of infrastructure failures."  It is an appeal that leaders in the field such as Scully are both urgently making and answering.