Thursday, September 13, 2012

Registration of Engineers: Paper shuffling Bureaucratic Nonsense.

Flood engineer John Ruffini facing criminal charge for not being registered during 2011 floods

So employed in job position which operations manual indicated should be filled by registered engineer (RPEQ), manual since revised to remove need for registered engineer. The person has since obtained registration. Can all  feel better now!

So are humans like computers with transient memory? So when wasn't registered, was the persons memory blank, empty, null and void. Now that they are registered, their memory has been rebooted, and all necessary software loaded into memory so that person fully operational as flood engineer?

The registration is total nonsense, it doesn't have anything to do with technical competence nor with the welfare of the community.

No one cares if the person was competent last week when they were given registration, all the population at large is concerned about is several years from now when a critical event occurs, that the systems function properly and all persons involved with perform their required tasks properly.

That requires on going training and testing, like members of the fire brigade and the members of the defence forces. And in this particular case it also requires never ending design and assessment along with community consultation. It is not possible to avoid a flood: only viable to minimise the effects of a flood. To what extent the effects can be minimised depends on the practicality and economic viability, as well as acceptable aesthetics of potential solutions. There is also the issue of what is economical and practical to do now, before the next flood. The community will be affected by the measures taken and therefore needs to be involved with the decisions taken. But the community also needs educating.

During the floods, on twitter there were plenty of comments about the need for more dams: apparently there was some prior proposal not accepted by government: partly a farming issue. There appears to be confusion over what a dam is. It seems dam has become synonymous with the body of water behind the dam wall. So now have to refer to the dam wall. When the wall is actually the dam. The body of water is a reservoir, an artificial lake,  a water storage, or a catchment. A dam can otherwise be considered a  barrier or blockage in a drainage channel. Dams cause flooding upstream. Shortly afterward the flooding, Engineers Australia released publication on farm dams: potentially adding more confusion. These things have never seen a dam: they are ponds, lagoons, billabong's, basins, or catchments. Generally natural valleys, impressions, indentations in the landscape: they typically capture surface run-off to provide water supplies to remote rural properties. Some may have built-up levy banks, but that would require relying on rain falling directly in the catchment of the storage basin.

We need reservoirs, or water storages to protect against drought, but need improved drainage systems to protect against the flooding when the rains eventually arrive.

The other issue is that the traditional Queenslander house was built on stilts providing protection from flooding, but it was apparent from the news that many of the houses had been converted turning the space between the stilts into additional living space. That is a significant change to the built environment: for one it blocks surface run-off.

Due to the drought many people also got rid of lawns and put paving down. Increased in-door, out-door living spaces, also resulted in more verandahs being constructed. Once again a significant change to the built environment: this time, increasing surface run-off and putting more water into the street drainage system: potentially over loading the system.

Put simply the population themselves are partly responsible for the flooding they experienced. Engineers Australia should be educating the population: rather than pursuing that traditional arrogant approach: we know, you don't, so do as we say. Or the trust me, we'll sort it out approach. 

Few problems are purely technical: they are political, economical, and otherwise highly subjective and personal. Educating the population so that they have some understanding of the technical side is important. As Louis Napoleon put it:
New discoveries have to remain undiscovered until the common intellect raises to comprehend them.
Builders licensing is another example, of registration not working. Builders licensing is primarily concerned with residential construction, its purpose to protect house buyers who are considered un-informed buyers. For other construction, licensing is not considered important, because the buyers are typically informed and otherwise knowledgeable about what they buy. Even with licensing to protect the public there are still persons who provide building services without being licensed, and those who are licensed who provide low quality services.

Registration, and licensing are all quality control (QC) approaches: allow the defects to be made and then do something about it afterwards. What the community really expects is quality assurance (QA): don't allow the defects in the first place. Registration and licensing fails to provide such requirement: and it fails because the systems implemented are poorly designed, the systems are not dynamically adaptive, and there is no continuous improvement, nor continuous monitoring. Put simply no regulation at all. The time between checks is too great, and the checks inadequate.

With respect to our water resources, we really need to know that concerned personnel, are training with models and simulators, and checking worst case scenarios, and developing habitual skills to respond correctly in the critical event. We also need to know that they are training the next generation, to take over at all levels in the system. Also doing real world tests, on an appropriate scale, so that know learned response on simulations is suited to real world system. No special awards, certificates, registration or licensing required. Determine what is required to do the job properly, train people to do the job that way, then ensure they do it that way when employed.