Sunday, June 22, 2008



Tolerance for people of other religions, ethnicities, tastes, etc is important.

But that is not what this post is about.

This post is about engineering tolerance: the amount of leeway permitted by an engineering design for... well, for just about anything. In particular, we are most concerned about the tolerance in the design of things that can be affected by weather: for example, houses and levees.

The climate is changing. Along with the change in climate will come changes in local weather. Some places will be hotter, some colder, some wetter, some dryer, some windier than ever before. Where a levee was designed for the biggest flood expected (or experienced) in a hundred years, that will not necessarily be enough. In fact it was not enough in New Orleans, or along the Mississippi.

We can expect many examples of nature producing severe stresses on our bridges, buildings, roads, forests, water supply, rivers, and other parts of our environment and infrastucture in the years to come. These stresses are likely to be outside the bounds of the current tolerances.

The effect of catastrophic failure is usually a huge cost and, often, loss of life.

We need to examine the current tolerance to stress of our entire national infrastructure and environment, and provide a more relaxed tolerance (that is, a more robust defense against a wider range of stress) everywhere it is needed, before more disasters strike.

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