Transition Engineering

By Nick Morrison

Wednesday evening saw a lecture on transition engineering by Professor Susan Krumdieck of Canterbury University New Zealand.

Professor Susan Krumdieck NM

Professor Susan Krumdieck

The professor grew up in a small village in Colorado US Orston 800 souls. The water for this village was entirely supplied by the winter snows in the Colorado Mountains. The whole village knew  exactly how much water there was and had their own methods of dealing with people who gave it no mind.

A coal-fired power plant was built 75 miles away. The day after it started up the village’s vista of the Colorado Mountains disappeared in a haze of smoke and smog. Filters were applied to the smokestacks which improved the visual appearance but worst was yet to come.

Four Corners Coal Power Plant NM

There are now nine streams and rivers where you are not allowed to fish due to mercury poisoning from this plant. US environmental and safety regulations have always been worse than Europe’s and it’s about to get a whole lot worse. There was an article on the net today that Trump has swept aside rafts of environmental legislation .

Curiously transition engineering is said to start in 1911 in the US. A fire broke out in a high-rise building in Manhattan, the 9th storey of which housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. The only door to the company opened inwards and the girls inside could not open it. All 146 of the young women died as they leapt from the windows to the streets very publicly in the middle of Manhattan. Is a Cheap Dress too High a Price to Pay?

Shortly afterwards 60 concerned engineers met to discuss what can be done about it. And in 1912 the Association of casualty inspectors was formed. It sort of snowballed from there driven mainly by the insurance companies. They found that where the casualty inspectors were active the pay out went down with fewer accidents and fires. For the first time there were designated people to maintain full fire buckets at certain locations and doors were changed to open outwards. The insurance companies started to ask other regions to employ the same practice . Actual legislation came two or three years later.

Part of transition engineering involves going back say to say 100 years or so to see what was done then and what changes have been made in the interim to see if changes to one of the practices would be  beneficial. The professor’s early experience of a village dealing with a finite resource was brought into play with an electrical supply problem in the Maldives, one of the many locations she has worked in. The problem in the Maldives, not the richest community in the world, was what’s the finite amount of diesel they could import for electricity generators. What was introduced successfully was a two tier text message system. The first text message was to indicate that the diesel was starting to run low and all unnecessary power use should be switched off. The second text message was to indicate that the diesel was extremely low and every effort should now be made to reduce power consumption. It was early on that it was found price was a very poor restriction in these circumstances as it only seemed to apply to the poorest 40% . What got the attention of the richer 60% was that if they didn’t reduce power the next stage was a total blackout.

It was an interesting and thought-provoking lecture , many of the academics in the audience started their questions with thanking the professor for her lecture.

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