Archive for March, 2018

Design is the Easy Part

How long does it take to design a project? Sometimes not nearly as long as it takes to effectively communicate the design to everyone who needs to understand it. I see it all the time. A set of plans will come across my desk. At first glance, they look good. There is a title sheet, grading plan, utility plan, detail sheet and some calculations. Seems like everything necessary to build the project has been included. If not, a contractor probably can construct a project that resembles the plans by making some assumptions. But is a constructed project that is somewhat like the plans sufficient? Not for most owners. And what about other parties that need to use the plans and calculations?

One of my responsibilities at DLZ is to review consultant stormwater plans for compliance with local standards. Rarely are the submittals mathematically wrong. Most of the concerns found during a review stem from ambiguity.

A common ambiguity relates to describing existing conditions at the project limits. Submittals also frequently include large amounts of calculations without an explanation of what variables were used and why. Plans and calculations must communicate that the design is sound, it meets the minimum requirements of reviewing agencies, and it can be constructed. A plan with ambiguities does not satisfy these three requirements.

Design plans and calculations for a given project may have several audiences, with a variety of needs. The only formal construction agreement that depends on a clear design might be between the owner and the contractor. But design clarity also is essential for permitting agencies. The plans and calculations must communicate how the agencies’ requirements are being fulfilled. The occupants of neighboring parcels need clarity to evaluate whether a proposed project may negatively affect the use and enjoyment of their property. The plans and calculations must define a single vision of the final project to all potential audiences.

The design professional has more communication tools available than many other professions. There are the graphic elements of the plans sheets, which are supplemented with general notes and specifications. A report narrative can be used to pull the plan graphics and specifications into simple language. Because we are all human, even well communicated design plans, calculations, and associated reports may contain conflicting or problematic information occasionally. This may trigger questions for the designer or cause the user to request more information. A well communicated set of design documents will help everyone concerned discover those issues sooner rather than later. Problems arise when there is a need for any interested party to interpret ambiguous plans. Each audience assumes it understands the designer’s design intent, even if their respective interpretations are different. Neither the audience nor the design professional may realize there is a difference in understanding until the project is complete or at least well under way. That certainly is not the ideal time to first discover and address those issues.

Attorneys’ careers are spent eliminating or exploiting ambiguities in agreements. Design consultants need to show the same care in eliminating ambiguities in their deliverables. An attorney armed with an ambiguity in design plans usually spells trouble.

A mathematically correct design is not enough. The merits of the design can still be totally lost when communication about its intent fails. The design professional must effectively communicate with everyone the basis and intent of their design. There is no ambiguity about that.

Office Refrigerator Safety

What’s that smell?! If you share a refrigerator with co-workers, you may ask yourself this question multiple times a week. Expired yogurt, forgotten takeout, leaky containers… all these and more can contribute to a not so fresh aroma that can permeate the kitchen area and beyond.

The first thing to consider when utilizing a communal fridge setup is to assess the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer. According to, the ideal temperature for refrigerators is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. For freezers, the Food and Drug Administration recommends 0 degrees Fahrenheit as an ideal target to preserve food as long as possible. It’s a good practice to double check temperatures with a thermometer—don’t trust the appliance’s internal readout. Temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees are what’s known as the “danger zone” and should be avoided at all costs. Bacteria is the enemy and it thrives in this temperature range. It not only smells bad, but it can make you sick and even lead to death. According to, there are 31 known foodborne pathogens. 90% of all illnesses due to these known pathogens are caused by seven of the most common:

  • Salmonella
  • Norovirus
  • Campylobacter
  • Toxoplasma
  • E. coli O157:H7
  • Listeria
  • Clostridium perfringens

Bacteria can begin growing in just 20 minutes in food stored in the aforementioned “danger zone” temperature range. To be safe, throw out any perishable food items from the refrigerator that are over a week old, even if they’ve been stored at the proper temperature. If you notice mold or something smells funny, err on the side of caution and discard the item immediately. If power is lost and you cannot determine how long it’s been out, throw away perishable items—better safe than sorry. If you do happen to ingest something that makes you feel sick, determine if it’s food poisoning or just a run of the mill stomach bug. has some valuable information in determining which is which:

Food poisoning can be serious. Avoid solid foods until any nausea or vomiting has ceased. Avoid spicy/greasy/fried/sweet foods. Eat small amounts of bland foods like, bread, crackers, rice or bananas. Sip on clear fluids and gradually increase the amount to stay hydrated. suggests calling a doctor if symptoms last more than 3 days or you have:

  • Fever
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Prolonged vomiting
  • Signs of dehydration

Hot, soapy water should be used to clean up any spills as soon as they are spotted. Once a spill is left for too long, it can seep into cracks and crevices, harden and become more difficult to remove.

Cleaning should be a shared responsibility in an office environment. Make a rotating schedule for everyone who uses the refrigerator to clean it every week or two. If we all take pride in keeping the fridge clean, the risk for foodborne diseases will decrease and you will feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

Food labels also contain valuable information for storage guidelines and expiration dates. Did you know there are a plethora of items that people commonly think need to be refrigerated but actually don’t? Keep these items out of the fridge to improve the taste as well as free up some valuable refrigerator real estate for your co-workers. (

Another good tip is to label items you put into the communal fridge. If Items belonging to you are labeled, they’re less likely to “disappear” and you won’t have to spend money eating out instead of enjoying those delicious leftovers you whipped up last night.

How May Climate Change Affect the Future of the Ohio River Basin?

One can argue whether or not global warming is occurring, but facts prevent the argument that our climate is not changing. For example, this was the first year on record for three hurricanes to hit the U.S. at Category 4 or greater – Harvey (category 4), Irma (category 5) and Jose (category 4). In addition, Houston has had a 500-year flood event each of the last three years. The probability of three successive 500-year flood events is 0.000000008. In the national media we often hear how climate change will impact the coastal states, but how will it affect us here in the Ohio River Basin? I had the privilege of being the Project Manager for a recent study that was the first comprehensive study to evaluate the impacts of climate change on the Ohio River Basin’s water resources infrastructure and its ecosystem. It was conducted by a team of engineers and scientists from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), USEPA, the National Weather Service’s Ohio River Forecast Center, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Marshall University, the University of Cincinnati, the University of New Hampshire, The Nature Conservancy, and several consulting firms.

The study was led and funded by the USACE, which has a compelling need to understand and adapt to climate change because our nation’s water resources infrastructure represents tremendous federal investment that supports public safety and local and national economies. In an effort to gain a better understanding of how climate change could impact the nation’s water resources infrastructure and our ecosystems, the USACE conducted 19 climate change pilot studies across the U.S. to test new ideas and develop new information needed to develop national policy and guidance. One of these pilot studies was conducted on the Ohio River Basin.

The Ohio River Basin contains a multitude of reservoirs, locks and dams, power generation plants and other types of infrastructure that depend on sustainable water resources. In addition, ecological resources in the basin include numerous federally-protected species that may be at risk from climate change. The two primary purposes of the study were to investigate how climate change could impact water resources infrastructure (locks, dams, levees, etc.) and the potential effects of climate change on the basin’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and threatened and endangered species.

The Ohio River Basin is over 204,000 square miles and covers all or parts of 14 states stretching from New York to Alabama. It is home to 27 million people, five million of which rely on the Ohio River for drinking water. Water resources in the basin provide $1.5 billion to the nation’s economy each year.

The study was based on a global climate change model produced by the International Panel on Climate Change and adapted by an interagency water resources group comprised of four federal government entities, including the USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Ohio River Forecast Center (ORFC) modeled mean air temperature and average precipitation over three 30-year periods: from 2011-2040, from 2041-2070, and from 2071-2099 at 25 gage points throughout the basin. However, before conducting these out-year simulations, the ORFC back-casted the model for the period from 1952-2001. Remarkably, the output data for temperature and stream flows from the back-casted model was within 2% of observed historical readings in all 25 data points throughout the basin. Therefore, the model was calibrated very accurately.

The model predicted there will be little change in air temperature and precipitation from 2011-2040. However, from 2041 to 2099, the northeastern and eastern portions of the basin will experience greater rainfall and river discharges. Specifically, as much as 35%-50% greater stream flows during the spring within the Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha and Big Sandy River sub-basins. During this same period, the northwestern and western portions of the basin also will experience greater rainfall and river discharges in the spring season, but the fall season will bring significant reductions in rainfall and thus decreased river flows and possibly drought. The model predicted as much as 25%-35% less flows during the fall within the Great Miami, Wabash, East Fork of the Wabash, White, Scioto and Muskingum River Basins.

In summary, between 2011-2040 the mean, maximum and minimum flows are within the historical range. However, from 2041-2099 the minimum flows are likely to decrease in the fall and peak spring floods are likely to increase. The good news is we have about 20 years to take action to plan for and minimize the potential negative impacts to our basin due to climate change.

Small Structures, Big Impact

The National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) require that every publicly-owned, bridge-sized structure carrying traffic must be inspected every 24 months as a means to ensure the safety of the traveling public and keep our transportation system moving. But what is a bridge-sized structure? Isn’t any bridge a bridge? Not in this case. The NBIS defines a bridge-sized structure as “an opening measured along the center of the roadway of more than 20 feet between (faces) of abutments or spring lines of arches, or extreme ends of openings for multiple boxes; it may also include multiple pipes, where the clear distance between openings is less than half of the smaller contiguous opening.” That means that the clear span under a bridge or the distance from one side of a culvert system to the other has to be more than 20 feet.

The magic number is 20 feet. Every public bridge or culvert over 20 feet long should be inspected on a regular basis to check for maintenance issues, deficiencies, and functionality. In order for each State to stay in compliance with the Federal mandate, a trained eye needs to inspect each of those structures every 24 months. What if your bridge only spans 19’-10”? What if you have a culvert made up of three, 6-foot diameter corrugated metal pipes? Any structure 20 feet or less is considered a small structure, and several counties and cities have vast small structure inventories that have no requirements for inspection by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The 1968 Federal-Aid Highway Act limited the bridge inventory to Federal-Aid highway system bridges. After the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1978 was passed, NBIS requirements were extended to include bridges greater than 20 feet on all public roads. These requirements enforce the inspection of over 605,000 bridge-sized structures in our nation. There is really nothing magic about 20 feet; the government just needed a reasonable cutoff for funding and it is easy to see that this system covers a great number of bridges. Structures 20 feet or less are not part of this system, however, and their inspection is the Owner’s responsibility. If you are unsure whether or not someone is inspecting the small structures in your inventory, then it’s possible they are not being inspected regularly, if at all.

Small structures need your attention. As a local public agency (LPA), it is important to realize that the small structures in your transportation system are not on the list for your State inspection. This reveals to you that these structures may very well have been left to age on their own, possibly since the day they were constructed. Many LPAs don’t even have a good inventory of these structures and rely heavily on their highway maintenance crews and the general public to let them know if repairs are needed. Often the “bridge inspection” performed by the public is based on what they see as they drive down the road. They will be quick to report a pothole, broken guardrail, or overflowing culvert because these things can generally be seen from inside their vehicle. The motoring public will rarely see the bottom of the bridge or the inside of the culvert barrel. The highway maintenance worker may get a better look, but these are still untrained eyes looking at vital pieces of our roadways. These workers may not understand issues with scour or the importance of simple maintenance that can prolong structure life. What can we do to improve the safety of our county and city roads? We can develop a plan to inventory, inspect, maintain, and repair our small structures. Small structure inspections are an important part of local highway maintenance and are becoming more important as our infrastructure ages and funding becomes slim.

It costs money to have an inspector look at all these structures. Money that could be used to fill a pothole, replace a light pole, patch a barrier, or replace a culvert. True. The initial price of small structures inspections often seems like a burden, but the advantage can well outweigh the cost. These inspections help the LPA to understand the status of all their small structures so that maintenance and repairs can be prioritized. Simply developing an inventory of small structures for an LPA is a great start and can be a good resource on its own for planning maintenance.

DLZ recommends that you contact a trained inspector and discuss your small structures inventory and any structures or areas of concern. An inspector can help develop an inventory of structures, prioritize inspection with help from the LPA, perform inspections, and return information to the owner about maintenance and repair needs and prioritization, and even replacement recommendations. This information will allow the LPA to make informed decisions in budgeting for future maintenance and repair.

DLZ has a team of bridge inspectors that has performed thousands of bridge-sized and small structure inspections throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. Our expertise and guidance has allowed LPAs to prioritize funding while maintaining road safety for their communities. Make sure someone is looking at your small structures and let us know if we can help.

New School Provides Hope for Guatemalan Children

Communities lie at the heart of all we do. As a company and as individuals, DLZ believes strongly in giving back to communities; not only those in which we work and live, but those that are less fortunate than others. DLZ’s staff contribute their time and talent to a number of organizations that help improve the lives and health of individuals throughout the world. That’s why we are proud to partner with the Central Ohio Chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB-COh) and what it is doing in Guatemala.

In 2015, EWB-COh embarked on a new project in Las Victorias, a very poor Guatemalan community of about 400 people (over half under the age of 16, and 70 under the age of 5) mostly of Mayan descent. With the help of a local NGO (non-governmental organization) that supports the indigenous people, Las Victorias submitted an application to EWB National requesting a primary school for its community. The community’s young children were walking a couple miles over rugged terrain every day to the nearest school. The paths were impassable during the rainy season. The children were often made fun of for their Mayan ancestry; most of the country is of Spanish background. In an attempt to improve the situation, the community built a small, two-room wooden shack (dirt floor, open windows) to use as a temporary school. The building was far too small to hold all the children, and they realized something better was needed. The community felt so strongly about the need for a local school that its members pooled their money and bought property to use for the school. Even though they didn’t have the resources to build the school, they felt that education was the only way that their children might have a better life.

EWB-COh visited the community in 2016 to do an initial assessment and determined that the project would potentially have several phases. Because of the steep terrain, the site initially had to be leveled. In order to stabilize the steep soil cuts along the edges of the site, the first phase was to construct a large 17-foot retaining wall along two sides of the site. EWB-COh designed the wall, raised money for construction and completed construction in 2017. EWB-COh is currently working on designing the school building, and construction is scheduled to begin in October 2018. Subsequent phases may include additional classrooms for higher grades, better access to potable water, and sanitary latrines.

DLZ employees Jim Siebert and Mike Kennedy have played an active role in the EWB-COh’s work in Guatemala. Jim helped raise money for construction and led both the analysis and design of the retaining wall. Jim was there for the initial assessment trip and spent a week in Guatemala helping start construction of the wall. DLZ, a long-time supporter of EWB-COh, provided the survey equipment used to check the layout of the wall, and our in-house materials laboratory tested samples of soil and concrete brought back from Guatemala. Both Jim and Mike are helping to design the school and prepare the site grading. Jim will be traveling to Guatemala again when construction of the next phase begins.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping others, especially working on projects that help other people help themselves”, said Jim.

EWB’s philosophy is to develop sustainable infrastructure projects to improve the quality of life in developing countries. Because of Jim’s engineering and construction background, he feels fortunate to be part of this effort. So far, Jim has taken seven trips to Central America on EWB work; he says he’s always impressed with how hard the local people work and how thankful they are for the help.

As a company, DLZ knows the importance of giving back, and we are grateful for our generous employees that make community service a lifestyle. Although EWB volunteers pay their own way and the community provides manual labor at no cost, money is needed for materials and certain skilled labor and oversight. While we may not be able to save the world, we are fortunate to be a contributor to EWB-COh and a part of the life-changing work being done in this small Guatemalan community.

Women in STEM Leadership Roles: A High Priority at DLZ

March is Women’s History Month and a time to applaud the many contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society all around the world. DLZ is fortunate to have some very talented women in our firm and we salute all women, especially those in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields. Here are a few women that we find inspirational:


It is no secret that the STEM fields have been predominantly male occupations, with historically low participation among women. According to the Economics and Statistics Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce), women hold only 24% of STEM jobs. Among STEM leaders the gender disparity is even greater. The Architectural, Engineering, and Construction (A/E/C) industry is historically (and even currently in some firms) known as an “old-boys club” workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2014, only 8.9% of people working in the construction industry are women.

DLZ is proud to a have a diverse leadership team, including six women leaders who serve as role models for the next generation of leaders. These women – Tanya Arsh, PE; Vicki Briggs, CPA; Laurie Johnson, PE; Cristine Klika, PE; Marcelyn Mathews, PE; and Vickie Wildeman, PE – serve as advocates to redress the disparity of women in both management and STEM fields in our society.

I reached out to these six ladies to learn about what led them to a career in STEM, who inspired them, what they feel is the key to their success, and if they had any advice for other women looking to follow in their footsteps. Here is summary of the responses that I received from each of these incredible women:


In addition to these six female STEM leaders, DLZ also has 13 women in other leadership roles, such as project managers, and directors of marketing. DLZ truly has shifted its once male-dominated leadership team and is changing the way that women are advancing internally. Our female leaders are mentors to other women in the firm, empowering them, and encouraging them to be the best that they can be.

March is Women’s History Month and we applaud women in STEM and we encourage you to not just empower other women, but to inform the youth of society that they can be just as successful as men in STEM roles.