Infiltration and Laboratory Testing Support Green Design

Federal Center South Swale

Swale at the new Federal Center South Building in Seattle

Rain gardens and bio-filtration swales are an increasingly important part of the sustainability approach for new construction. They keep rainwater from flowing over impervious surfaces where it can pick up pollutants and carry them to water bodies. This benefit is more and more imperative when it comes to controlling non point source pollution. The Washington State Department of Ecology, for example, has reconfirmed surface runoff as the leading pathway for toxics to get into Puget Sound. (Phase 1 study, Phase 2 study).

Infiltration testing allows you to determine whether a swale will be successful at a given property. An infiltration test involves excavating a test pit (typically 5 feet by 5 feet). A hydrogeologist adds water to the pit, then records how much water is necessary to maintain the water level at the same level over a period of 10 to 12 hours. The hydrogeologist then stops the water flow and measures the drop in water level. The infiltration rate determined from a field test is called a field infiltration rate. To determine the design infiltration rate, the hydrogeologist then adjusts for a number of factors such as site variation, number of tests conducted, degree of long-term maintenance and influent pre-treatment/control, and the potential for long-term clogging from silt and bio-buildup.

Geotechnical laboratory testing is useful for rain gardens, which require a specific mix of soil types that helps scrub some of the contaminants from the rainwater before it reaches a major body of water, yet still allows the water to drain. Rain gardens are also an effective way to store water from large storm events and prevent it from overloading the storm drain and sewer systems in the public streets.

Devastating Presentations

Businessman Writing on Whiteboard

In theatrical improvisation training, there is a truly devastating exercise involving audience attention. You stand on the stage. The other improvisation students are standing in front of you. The teacher instructs you to tell a story, and tells the other students to sit down the moment they have lost interest. They must be brutally honest, without sparing your feelings. Once everybody sits, you have to stop telling the story. The goal is to see how long you can keep your audience standing.

Going through this exercise makes you realize what a dull person you can be. You are astonished at how soon people sit down, often within seconds, regardless of how much they like you as a person or admire your skills. Even the most brilliant performers struggle with this exercise. The audience is looking for reasons to not be interested, and they easily find those reasons.

Keeping audience attention can be just as difficult during a business presentation, where time is money, and people want to know how you’re going to solve their problems, or at least entertain them enough to make that rubber chicken luncheon worthwhile. Sure, the audience won’t sit down (they’re already sitting), but the odds are they won’t remember most of what you’ve said.

Applied to a business presentation or interview, the improv exercise would happen something like this:

You say, “Hello, my name is X.” Several people sit.

“I’m going to talk about the X project.” A third of the audience sits.

“This was a really exciting project.” Everybody except one person sits.

“After that, I’m going to discuss the X project.” The last person sits. You’re done. You’ve failed miserably. Your presentation was devastating every imaginable way.

The next time you’re preparing a presentation, keep this exercise in mind. How will you grab attention from the very start of your presentation, so that nobody is tempted to “sit down?”

Check out this post from Fast Company that might be of some help.

From Right-to-Know to Right-to-Understand

GHS pictograms webghs1049

OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) has been revised. If you haven’t already seen changes to Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and labels on chemical products, you will soon. OSHA is requiring that employers train employees on the changes by December 1, 2013.

A little background: in 1983 OSHA established the HCS. The HCS requires employers to ensure that employees know about the chemical products used or stored in their workplace and the hazards associated with those chemicals so that employees can use and handle the chemicals safely. Also referred to as the Right-To-Know Law, the HCS requires that information be provided to all employees who have the potential of being exposed to a hazardous chemical through normal use or in an emergency situation. Required information includes: a hazardous chemical inventory; MSDS for each chemical on the inventory; labels, tags, or signs on primary and secondary containers holding chemicals; and a written hazard communication program. The HCS did not specify a common or coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating the information to employees.

To improve safety and health of workers through more effective communications on chemical hazards, OSHA recently revised the HCS to adopt the Globally Harmonized System (GHS). The GHS, also known as the Right-to-Understand System, is an international approach for providing easily understandable information to employees. The adoption of the GHS includes three major changes to the HCS:

• Hazard classification: The definitions of hazard have been changed to provide specific criteria for classification of health and physical hazards, as well as classification of mixtures.
• Labels: Chemical manufacturers and importers will be required to provide a label that includes a common worldwide signal word, pictogram, and hazard statement for each hazard class and category.
• Material Safety Data Sheets: The nine-section MSDS will now be called a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and will have a specified sixteen-section format.

Many American and foreign chemical manufacturers have already begun to produce HazCom 2012/GHS-compliant labels and SDS. That’s why many workplaces have already begun to receive labels and SDSs that are consistent with the GHS. It is important to ensure that when employees begin to see the new labels and SDSs in their workplaces, they are familiar with them, understand how to use them, and access the information effectively.

Geotechnical Lessons from the Tohoku Earthquake

Japan landslide area

Rockslide (background) and flood protection (foreground) in Ishinomaki City, Japan (Photo: Dave Swanson, Reid Middleton)

The magnitude 7.3 earthquake that struck Japan six days ago is a reminder of the more devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck March 11, 2011. In an earlier post we mentioned a reconnaissance team that traveled to Miyagi Prefecture in Japan in May 2011 after the earthquake and tsunami.

In the landslide area photo above from 2011, the light colored rock slope failed even with reinforcement that protected the slope to the left. The entire land area settled, which allowed Tsunami and high tide water access to the shoreline. Fortunately, in this area the Tsunami water was not as high as other areas, so the buildings weren’t washed away. Blue tarp temporarily protects the river bank from overtopping at high tide.

Doug Lindquist of Hart Crowser had these observations about the geotechnical damage:
Damage generally happened in known geologic hazard areas (tsunami zones, areas near past landslides, liquefiable areas, and reclaimed land).
• Liquefaction damage was extensive even 150 kilometers away from the fault rupture. (Seattle is about 100 kilometers from the Cascadia Subduction Zone.)
• Ground improvement measures are effective.
• Engineering methods can reasonably estimate the liquefaction hazard.
• Newer structures performed well when designed considering known geologic hazards.

As the reconnaissance team report reminds us, a similar earthquake will happen along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, off the coastline from northern California to British Columbia. The impacts of this event on our communities and industry will depend on the actions we take now to prepare for it. The lessons learned from Japan can be applied in our own communities.

For more details on the reconnaissance team’s findings, along with some fascinating photographs, see the report here.

Predicting the Future

Emerging Trends

To guide your company’s direction, it’s helpful to gain insight on what those in the development community believe the future holds. You could ask them directly for their thoughts and predictions. Or you could read the Urban Land Institute’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate® 2013. In this report, the ULI has compiled and interpreted the information from 900 personal interviews and surveys with influential real estate leaders, somehow making sense out of a mountain of opinions and educated guesses.

We were particularly interested in how the publication rates future development potential in the Seattle and Portland areas. We learned that Seattle is rated sixth out of fifty-one United State locations in investment, eighth in development, and seventh in homebuilding. It is “one of the best markets for younger adults” due to tech businesses. (The recently completed Colman Tower in downtown Seattle seems to support this point of view, as its residential units are focused on younger adults.) Interest in office and industrial space is also relatively strong. Portland, Oregon is rated seventeen out of fifty-one locations in investment, twenty in development, and twenty-third in homebuilding. Its economy “displays stability but few signs of quick improvement.”

As a firm that also provides services nationwide and around the world, we were also interested in information in other areas. In addition to the United States, the ULI evaluated Canada, Latin America, Brazil, Mexico, and other countries. More Information.

Take-Aways That Keep On Giving

When was the last time you attended a business seminar or presentation and walked away with a message that stuck with you? Sometimes the simplest things end up informing your approaches to tasks or dilemmas—year after year.

The specific example I’m thinking of was a seminar presented by a woman from Starbucks, probably 10 years ago. Her title was “Innovation Team Leader” and her team’s purpose was to think up new products. They had ambitious goals and she spoke about how they worked to achieve them. These are the two take-aways that have stuck—and proven valuable to me time and again:

Take-away 1: To be a successful team leader, you don’t have to be the person with all of the ideas or knowledge or creativity. That’s why you have a team.

Take-away 2: The best-performing team will include a little something of everything. You need the big-picture dreamer, the practical person who can execute, the naysayer who will point out potential pitfalls, the financial expert who helps you understand the return on investment…you get the idea.

While it’s human nature to want to work with people who are like you, resist the temptation! Populate your team with people who are different from you—and each other.

Driving on Styrofoam, Building on Pillows

Geofoam at SR 519

Geofoam at SR 519

You may have seen this recent blog headline: In New York, Buildings ‘Sleep’ on These Giant Red Pillows. Since that headline was called out in an engineering-related notice, you might have assumed it had something to do with seismic stability or that it was related to geotechnical engineering. After all, a recent Washington State Department of Transportation project (SR 519) used giant blocks of styrofoam in the foundation for access ramps and pedestrian areas.

To be more specific, SR 519 had the first application of geofoam approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation. Geofoam, or lightweight expanded polystyrene, is essentially a type of Styrofoam, and is used as lightweight fill in areas where heavier materials would be problematic. For the SR 519 project, using Geofoam helped protect hundred-year-old utilities. Meanwhile, highrises now can have huge rubber or fluid-filled shock absorbers, or Teflon-coated pegs.

But if you clicked on that blog headline about pillows expecting to see an earthquake engineering technology, you would have been delightfully wrong. The blog entry is about a stunning art installation, not about engineering. Although you might wonder whether there is an underlying truth to the art.

Take a look.

Potential New Airborne Pile Driving Criteria for Marbled Murrelets

The marbled murrelet is a small seabird listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the Pacific Northwest. Most Pacific Northwest subpopulations are declining. In Puget Sound declines are about seven percent a year. If the decline goes unchecked, the species may disappear locally. As a result, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has developed conservative policies to protect the species from disturbances from waterfront development activities.

In 2011, the USFWS adopted new underwater criteria for evaluating the effects of impact pile driving (for steel piles) to diving marbled murrelets. Since these criteria were adopted, pile driving operations in areas where marbled murrelets may be present require using USFWS-certified marbled murrelet observers to patrol the impact zone during all impact pile driving operations.

These criteria don’t address temporary hearing loss or behavioral effects. For behavioral effects, the USFWS is considering extending the criteria to airborne noise and driving piles with impact or vibratory drivers. The agency believes that airborne noise in the range of 14 decibels above the background level can interfere with murrelet calls to each other on the water, potentially affecting foraging behavior. The concern is that foraging effectiveness may be decreased or compromised, particularly during the breeding season when the birds are actively feeding young. In the Pacific Northwest, marbled murrelets nest in old growth forest habitats, often great distances from the marine environments they feed in. The belief is that any delay or compromise in feeding efficiencies may affect reproductive success.

New airborne criteria, if adopted, may greatly affect the current zone of impact or distance from pile driving operations in which Endangered Species Act “take,” (harrassment or harm) may occur. The 14-decibel airborne sound level under evaluation is substantially lower than the current 92-decibel level, which is a general guideline with no enforcement authority. This could affect the nature, level of effort, and cost of future monitoring programs required during pile driving operations in Puget Sound. We will continue to post further developments of potential new criteria as they come available. Stay tuned!

Food Frenzy Raises Money and Food for Children


Donations for Food Lifeline

Hart Crowser staff recently took part in Food Lifeline’s Food Frenzy competition, a creative competition between local businesses to raise funds and food for Food Lifeline to end hunger for children in western Washington. The “frenzied activities” extended over a couple weeks in July, and Hart Crowser came in fourth in the Design and Construction company category.

We also had a friendly competition within Hart Crowser to spur on the action. We created four teams to compete against each other: Team Geotech, Team Environmental, Team Edmonds, and Team Admin. 

In addition to food donations, Hart Crowser sponsored events to raise money, including a silent auction, breakfast buffet, book sale, and bake sale.  Each of the four teams created theme baskets for the auction and individuals or small groups came up with other creative items to make or obtain.  Maybe the most unique auction item was an offer by one employee to shave his beard that raised $230 alone.  We thank Geiger (promotional products) for their donation of a number of items for the auction.

Our teams raised $4,590, and donated 1,326 pounds of food.

And the winner?  Food Lifeline, which accumulated 22,000 food items and raised $490,000!

Lessons from the Great East Japan (Tohoku) Earthquake

Group at Tsunami Site

Reconnaissance Team in front of Disaster Prevention Building (destroyed by the Tsunami rather than the earthquake). Photo: Mark Pierepiekarz, MRP Engineering

The Tohuku Earthquake was the fourth largest ever recorded in the world.  Doug Lindquist of Hart Crowser was part of a reconnaissance team that traveled to MiyagiPrefecture in Japan last June after the earthquake and tsunami. Doug found the experience in the tsunami-impacted areas profoundly moving.  “The damage was incomprehensible. Nearly everything was gone.”

The goal of the team was to learn lessons to apply to the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii. After all, with the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Pacific coast, the Big One around here may not be far off.

 A quick list is of the team’s findings is below. 

  •  Japan is the most prepared country in the world for both earthquakes and tsunamis.  We should continue to look at their examples to save lives and property in our own areas. 
  • Seismic retrofit and protection technology works.
  • CurrentU.S. building codes and standards for earthquake design of new structures are very good at addressing life-safety.
  • For a large earthquake, saving lives is not enough.  Building and infrastructure performance levels need to be higher so people can remain in buildings and the economy can recover quickly.