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Insite: To the rescue

Civil engineers are on the frontline of disaster management, providing essential skills that save lives around the world.

From emergency structural assessments of bridges damaged by flooding to engineering clean water and sanitation in earthquake zones, civil engineers are at the forefront of disaster management.

In the past 12 months alone engineers have been urgently dispatched to the sites of numerous devastating natural disasters − internationally in Haiti and Chile, and locally in Cumbria.

Haiti suffered a magnitude 7 earthquake in January this year leading to over 200,000 deaths and the destruction of vital infrastructure from hospitals to government buildings.

United States president Barack Obama described the damage as “nothing less than devastating”. “Right now in Haiti roads are impassable, the main port is badly damaged, communications are just beginning to come online, and aftershocks continue,” he said.

Engineering disaster relief charity RedR co-ordinated the UK’s engineering effort and sent a full assessment team to the Caribbean country. RedR stands for Engineers for Disaster Relief.

The organisation responds to requests from charities such as Oxfam and the Red Cross, ensuring that engineers provide relevant and coordinated support in times of crisis. RedR’s engineers offer training and support to local people and aid workers.

Both Chile and Haiti were hit by devastating earthquakes earlier this year

Source: CARE

Both Chile and Haiti were hit by devastating earthquakes earlier this year

The assessment team sent to Haiti consisted of RedR water and sanitation expert Cheryl MacDonald and Bioforce logistics specialist Jean- Phillippe Lezau The team spent two weeks identifying the specific needs of local and international aid personnel in Haiti before establishing a £200,000 training programme, which focused on technical training in water and sanitation, shelter and logistics.

RedR’s free online technical support service, which boasts a panel of more than 150 technical experts with extensive field experience, was also called into action.

Closer to home, civil and structural engineers were crucial to the efforts to restore transport links in Cumbria following November’s heavy storms. Record rainfall led to extreme flooding that destroyed homes, swept away bridges and severed local roads.

Over 1,800 bridges needed urgent inspection after the rainfall. Engineers from Network Rail, the Highways Agency and the Royal Engineers joined forces with Cumbria County Council to assess the damage. An additional 65 engineers were called in to help the area, many of which came from consultant Capita Symonds.

“Capita Symonds organised bridge checks and has redeployed some staff [from around the country],” says Cumbria County Council highways network manager John Robinson.

Broken homes in Haiti

Source: CARE

RedR are sending relief to combat the spread of disease

Workington was one of the worst hit Cumbrian towns. The floods destroyed the town’s Northside Bridge and extensively damaged the Calva Bridge. As the River Derwent runs through the town centre, the loss of these major river crossings meant the floods effectively split Workington into two.

Engineers from infrastructure provider Morgan Est are currently building a new 67m long crossing using some of the £4.6M of emergency funding from the Department for Transport. This will be completed by June and two permanent crossings are set to be built over the next two years.

Whether it is responding to the immediate after effects of natural disasters or rebuilding damaged structures, engineers play a vital role in managing such events.

From the examples of Haiti, Cumbria, and many others, it is clear that communities devastated by natural disasters would be unable to assess the damage, get back on their feet and rebuild their environment without the help of civil engineers.

And with climate change experts forecasting increased flooding and extreme weather, that help is likely to become

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