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October 2017

Recind and Revoke: A Double Edged Sword

Continuing our conversation about how natural disasters impact our A/E community, we feature guest author Michael Ellegood, PE, former Project Engineer through Senior Executive in major consulting engineering firms. He joined the public sector as an agency head ultimately retiring as County Engineer, Public Works Director and Transportation Director for Maricopa County, Arizona. Michael is a Senior Consultant with PSMJ Resources and collaborates with public works agencies across North America to improve their project delivery. He brings us his perspective to a recent post in "Architect" August 28, 2017 "Days Before Hurricane Harvey Hit Texas, Trump Repealed Flood Planning Rules".

A recent article in "Architect" the official Journal of the AIA, decries the recent move by President Trump overturning an executive order by former President Obama requiring that new housing and public infrastructure be elevated 2 to 3 feet above their local 100 year flood elevation. Presumably, this move was made to reduce the administration burden on developers and agencies providing infrastructure.

The AIA opines that this is a "clear regression in flood policy". An alternative opinion in the same Journal claims that it won't make much difference because architects and engineers who don't want to be sued will account for flood level rise.

Like most things in life, both the Obama E.O. and Trump's rescinding of it are two edged swords. Yes, there are many regulations at all levels of government that slow, inhibit, and constrain all forms of development; concurrently increasing the cost. There are so many regulations and often overlapping agencies each with its own requirements that in some locales it is amazing that anything gets constructed at all. (Can you imagine the Hoover Dam being constructed today?) That said, in this era of climate change induced natural disasters, it makes sense to have at least regional standards to provide the public a modicum of protection from weather related events. Adoption and enforcement of common standards will also provide some level of protection to us in the design community. The adoption of uniform standards will provide the "industry standards" to which we must comply and shield us against the, too often, politicization of engineering judgment.

For a decade, I was involved in the oversight of a public agency charged with providing flood protection to a major urban county. During that ten year period, we had five major storm events causing flooding and emergency declarations. Despite the tremendous cost to the taxpayer, insurance companies and private owners, we were under constant political pressure to ease regulations; not to identify floodplains or to permit exceptions. Powerful and moneyed interests wishing to develop on a piece of property had no hesitation to elevate floodplain designation or flood protection issues to the highest level of county and state government. There were many times when I as Chief Engineer and General Manager was booed out of public meetings or called on the carpet before an irate supervisor accusing me of being over zealous in my duties. And, yes, I did fear, on occasion, for my job.

Never-the-less, as licensed design professionals we have only one overriding mission and that is to use our skills and technical judgment to provide protection to the public that we serve. We do that in one of three ways:

  • Education: Determining what hazards exist in a specific location (flood zone designation)
  • Regulation: Developing, adopting and enforcing sound building standards so that we keep property owners out of harm's way
  • Engineering: Developing infrastructure to protect the public (dams, channels, and the like)

By eliminating federal flood standards, it appears that the tool of regulation may have been taken from us.

NOTE: Michael also recommends the article "How To Build Hurricane-Proof Cities" as continuation of our ongoing discussion.

Most of us have not had the opportunities and challenges of evaluating, planning and rebuilding after an historic natural disaster. But, we know there have been times when managing and maintaining credentials, personal and corporate, became critically urgent with complex tasks ahead. Let us help you avoid a costly time and financial disaster. Call us for assistance at 913-608-7880 and for more information, visit



Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview

2017 in Progress...

In 2017 (as of October 6), there have been 15 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 1 drought event, 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, 7 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events and 1 wildfire event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 282 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.

Excerpted From: The National Centers for Environmental Information
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


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