Canadian Consulting Engineer

Engineers Canada develops protocol to help infrastructure engineers

David Lapp, P.Eng. of Engineers Canada presented work his organization is doing on infrastructure and climate change at the University of Toronto on Thursday, February 10.

February 14, 2011   Canadian Consulting Engineer

David Lapp, P.Eng. of Engineers Canada presented work his organization is doing on infrastructure and climate change at the University of Toronto on Thursday, February 10.

The lunchtime presentation in Hart House was held by the Ontario Centre for Engineering and Public Policy (OCEPP) with about 200 people in attendance.

Lapp has been giving the presentation to engineering associations, but also to municipalities in an effort to prompt them to consider climate change when planning and designing their infrastructure. He said a similar workshop at Peel Region in Ontario the week before had been “sold out.”

Engineers Canada actually began to ponder the issue of climate change in 2003, Lapp said, around that time when the Kyoto Protocol was being passed. Engineers Canada (also known as the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (CCPE)) held a national workshop at that time to develop a position on climate change, and decided then to concentrate on tackling the problem of adapting infrastructure to climate change, rather than worrying about the means of mitigation (i.e. reducing greenhouse as emissions). He said that they chose to concentrate on adaptation, because adaptation is the kind of work engineers do.

In 2003, Lapp said, there were still some uncertainties about climate change. Today, however, he concludes that regardless of why climate change is happening, we know that it is changing and we need to deal with it.

Since then, in partnership with Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), Engineers Canada has embarked on a long-term program to evaluate the vulnerability of Canada’s infrastructure. They formed the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) for the purpose. It is tackling the problem based on four main categories of infrastructure: roads, stormwater and wastewater; water supply; and buildings.

Lapp included melting permafrost, changing peak energy demands, droughts and intense rains as specific effects of climate change that affect infrastructure and engineering designs. Critical failures in infrastructure can be very expensive for municipalities, he noted, as for example the collapse of a culvert on Finch Avenue in Toronto during a heavy rain storm a few years ago.

The PIEVC has devised a draft protocol to enable engineers (and others) to assess the durability of specific structures. The protocol is a formalized step-by-step process that takes into account hard and soft components of the infrastructure and the climate parameters in order to produce a risk score on a 7-point scale.  The idea is to eliminate a lot of low risk considerations, presumably so that the municipality or other owner can concentrate on protecting infrastructure of high risk.

The PIEVC has tested the protocol on several structures, including a water treatment plant at Portage La Prairie, the Quesnell Bridge in Edmonton, buildings in Ottawa and thermosyphon foundations in the Far North. From these pilots they have refined the protocol and are producing almost a dozen case studies for distribution.

The PIEVC is  taking a careful measured approach so the results “don’t happen overnight,” Lapp said. He emphasizes, however, that such tools are important in order to set policies, and policies in turn are important to driving engineering practice. PIEVC is also proceeding on the basis that climate change factors need to be incorporated in new codes and standards.

One of the challenges of assessing a structure’s vulnerability is that climate predictions at a local geographic scale are not precise. Still the program is about “understanding the risks and setting tolerances,” says Lapp.

Though the protocol is intended for engineers, it could be of use to planners,  climate scientists, owners and operators, says Lapp, adding that in fact it almost requires a multidisciplinary approach.


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