Advancing freshmen engineering education by utilizing the impact of 2017 storms on U.S infrastructure

Jagadish Torlapati, Ralph Alan Dusseau, Tri Tam Nguyen, Tony Andrew Carlino, Victoria Lee Barry

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


This paper describes the impact of three major hurricanes from 2017, Harvey, Irma and Maria, on the infrastructure and utilizing the knowledge from these events to educate freshmen civil engineering students. The primary focus of this study was to investigate the structural damage, geotechnical failures, transportation, environmental impacts, and social impacts of infrastructure failure on various demographic groups. In 2017, U.S. infrastructure was given a D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineer's infrastructure report card. The states affected by the hurricanes, Texas and Florida, have received C- and C grades, respectively. Inadequate infrastructure design and maintenance may have compounded the death toll from these storms. These events have shown the need to prepare future generations of civil engineers by educating them about the importance and challenges of designing infrastructure to withstand 100-year storms. Structural damage from these storms destroyed businesses, residential homes, and major highways. Guajataca Dam in Puerto Rico suffered a collapsed spillway endangering 60,000 people in its path during hurricane Maria. In our lectures, we focused on presenting the reasons for structural failure, and used active learning strategies to discuss ideas and intricacies to design resilient structures. We investigated the fundamental issues that caused geotechnical failures such as landslides, sinkholes, and dam failures. Irma and Maria caused hundreds of landslides, which generated death, destruction, and contamination. Some of Puerto Rico's dams have not been inspected since 2012 and a majority of these dams were built before 1960. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have all had a devastating environmental impact. Most of the areas affected were contaminated from hazardous waste, superfund sites, and debris. Hurricane Harvey alone brought 60 inches of rain that flooded superfund sites and oil stations. These flooded areas spread pollutants all over eastern Texas and contaminated water supplies, farms, and watersheds. The cities that were impacted by these hurricanes did not have access to safe drinking water and food to eat. It is important to educate and conduct further research in ways that cities can be protected from huge environmental disasters. Future civil engineers can develop ways to contain contaminated areas during devastating storms. This paper will focus on how the impact of the 2017 hurricanes was incorporated into our freshman Introduction to Infrastructure course. This will include modifications that were made to existing lecture modules and new lecture modules that were specifically developed to address the impact of these hurricanes. Students were assessed through a survey at the beginning and end of the course to determine the significance of these lectures have on student interest in various civil engineering disciplines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019
Event126th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Charged Up for the Next 125 Years, ASEE 2019 - Tampa, United States
Duration: Jun 15 2019Jun 19 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Engineering(all)


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