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      A public safety lesson learned in person

      May 28, 2013 8:47 AM by Elizabeth Ingram, senior editor, Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide

      PennWell is headquartered in Tulsa, Okla., and many of us watched the news and weather with trepidation as the tornado hit Oklahoma City on Monday, May 20. Oklahoma City is about 100 miles west and slightly south of Tulsa, and the storm was headed northeast. We in Tulsa were extremely lucky that the system that spawned this tornado, which was 1.3 miles wide and had estimated peak winds of 200 to 210 miles per hour, passed to the north of our city.

      At least 24 people were killed during the tornado, and about 2,400 homes were damaged in the cities of Moore and Oklahoma City. About 10,000 people were directly impacted by the tornado, with 237 injured, according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management. Insurance claims are likely to top $1 billion, says the Oklahoma Insurance Commission.

      I happened to be working from home that day and heard the tornado sirens go off three times, each incident making me contemplate heading to the closest thing we have to a safe room: our bathroom. Our house, like most others in the area, does not have a basement.

      In fact, for many communities in Oklahoma, the local schools are considered the safe shelters. So, I’m sure it made sense for the parents whose children were in school to leave them there, in what they thought was security. I completely understand this sentiment, as I have two school-age children and I remember being grateful they were “safe” at school while I was listening to the sirens. (I later learned a tornado had passed 4 miles north of my house.)

      Unfortunately, this security was not what it seemed. Seven of the nine children killed were at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., when the storm hit. By comparison, all the students at Briarwood Elementary School survived. Why? Basically it comes down to the school’s construction. Essentially just a matter of better architectural design with regard to tornado survival. Each group of classrooms at Briarwood Elementary, organized into pods, had an opening to the outside and teachers were able to crawl through that open area and pass children over the rubble. Plaza Towers Elementary had a more traditional design of a long line of classrooms under a single roof. The roof and walls piled on top of each other during the collapse, trapping people inside. Purportedly Plaza Towers Elementary had a basement, and several of the children were reported to have drowned after being trapped.

      Neither of these two schools had a safe room, which are designed to sustain winds up to 250 mph.

      Natural disasters happen. That’s simply a fact of life, and all the preparation in the world cannot avert them. All we can do is try our best not to become a casualty.

      Luckily, for the hydropower industry, there are plenty of things dam owners are doing to ensure the safety of people living near dams. We recognize the importance of these efforts on Friday, May 31, when we celebrate National Dam Safety Awareness Day. This day was established in 1999 to commemorate the devastation that occurred on May 31, 1889, when the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pa., failed. By contrast with the Oklahoma City tornado, this dam failure resulted in the deaths of 2,209 people and left thousands homeless. It remains the worst dam failure in U.S. history. And that’s good news. It means the improvement of dam safety programs has dramatically reduced the loss of life from dam failures. However, ongoing attention and investment are necessary to protect lives and property and to preserve the valuable benefits that dams provide.

      On this day, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, Federal Emergency Management Agency and state dam safety programs encourage the public to learn about the benefits of dams and the risks associated with potential dam incidents and failures. Education is vital. People who know and understand the risks are more likely to react appropriately and responsibly during natural disasters. So I think I will have to come up with a little better plan than running to the bathroom before the next tornado scare.

      What are you doing to educate the public and get the word out about your efforts and the public’s role in dam safety? Tell us about any special programs you have in place, how they are working, and what more you plan to do in the future. If there’s one thing I have learned, it’s that you can never be too prepared.

      I'm feeling a little more politically savvy these days

      May 20, 2013 4:52 PM by Elizabeth Ingram, senior editor, Hydro Review and HRW-Hydro Review Worldwide

      Let me start out by saying that I am not a political animal. At all. I am less than fully versed in the many aspects of our political system and the political process. And I am OK with that. It is a choice I make/made. I had/have opportunities to get more educated on this topic.

      I also, as a rule, do not enjoy discussing politics. I care very little about an individual person’s political views. When I see a friend making a post on Facebook that is clearly intended to rile up people who don’t think the same way politically, I calmly keep on scrolling. No response necessary.

      I say all of this so you can better understand me and also to help set the stage for the exciting news that is about to come: We have three high-level political figures slated to speak at HydroVision International 2013 in Denver, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

      In fact, at this year’s HydroVision International, which is being held the week of July 22 in Denver, Colorado, U.S., our speakers include a state governor, a U.S. representative and a former U.S. Senator (and presidential hopeful). Even I, a non-follower when it comes to politics, am excited about this situation. Let me tell you more.

      Let’s start with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who will be speaking during the opening keynote session on Wednesday, July 24. Hickenlooper calls himself a recovering geologist who once owned a brewpub and was goaded into running for mayor of Denver in 2003. From there, he became governor of Colorado, in 2011, where he and his team are working to promote an all-of-the-above energy policy. I am excited to hear what Hickenlooper has to say to this unique audience at HydroVision International.

      Next up is U.S. Representative Diana DeGette, whose name many of you will recognize as the co-sponsor of The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, along with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. DeGette cannot leave Washington, D.C., because of her legislative calendar, so she will be presenting a video address during the opening keynote session at HydroVision International. This particularly thrills me, as it proves that legislators in Washington, D.C., are optimistic about hydropower and its future in the U.S. energy mix! They want to come talk to you as the people who keep this industry moving forward every day.

      And the third speaker I alluded to earlier is Gary Hart. Now, whether or not you recognize this name depends almost entirely on your age, but also a bit on your familiarity with American history. Hart is a former U.S. Senator from Colorado and was a presidential hopeful in 1984 and 1988 before a little “monkey business” derailed that aspiration. Hart is now a consultant, author and speaker. His most recent book is a fictionalized account of the controversy surrounding development of the Animas-La Plata water project in Colorado. Hart will be speaking during the closing awards luncheon on Friday, July 26, so make sure you don’t fly home too early that day!

      In the process of identifying and inviting these speakers, I became a bit more politically savvy. Admittedly, there is still much I do not know. But this I do know: These three speakers -- along with more than 400 other expert panelists and presenters -- are going to make this year’s HydroVision International one to remember.

      But, we never rest on our laurels. We’re already thinking about ways to make the 2014 event bigger and better. You can do your part in 2013 by registering to attend this important industry event at www.hydroevent.com. And if you have ideas of speakers we should invite or topics we should cover, or even a fun networking opportunity or technical tour for 2014, let me know in the comment box below. Nobody knows better than you what you want to see in a hydropower industry event, and we want to make this event work for you!


      Comments from the peanut gallery

      May 7, 2013 10:55 AM by Bethany Duarte, Associate Editor, Hydro Review and HRW

      I have always maintained a front row seat in the peanut gallery. From a very young age, I had the gift of inserting unique perspectives at opportune (and sometimes, inopportune) moments.

      After attending a number of hydropower meetings and conferences, I have found myself taking a seat in each and every presentation regarding the importance of the next generation of hydro professionals, as well as the panels discussing how to go about pulling them into hydro as students.

      As is my status quo, I feel compelled to add the perspective of a young professional to the dialogue.

      When U.S. Senator Ron Wyden exclaimed that “hydro is back. WAY back,” in Washington DC in front of 500 hydropower industry professionals, the excitement and anticipation in the room was as real and tangible as the voice recorder I was holding. No flashing lights, pounding music, pulsing lasers, or live production was needed to grab the audience’s attention. Senator Wyden  inspired, energized, and bolstered the spirits of an industry more than ready to have it’s day in the renewable energy spotlight with those simple, yet powerful five words.

      As I listened to Senator Wyden, a voice popped into my head, quietly reminding that there is another side to this coin.

      With great power comes great responsibility.

      Whether you attribute the quote to Uncle Ben or Voltaire, the truth remains. To whom much is given, even more is required.

      As we all anxiously await the day that the President picks up his pen in support of clean, renewable, hydroelectric power, I would like to pose the question: how are we to embrace the bright future we are fighting for in Congress while saying goodbye to 50% of our skilled workforce over the next several years? How do we staff our plants with the best of the best, when they are leaving behind their hard hats and replacing them with fishing rods? How do we ensure that the future of the industry, the people, will be there when called upon?

      From my perspective, the answer lies in the reason Senator Wyden’s address lit a fire in many an audience member’s heart and mind.

      Passion. Enthusiasm. Communication.

      It is the passion and enthusiasm I felt in that room at the National Hydropower Association’s Annual Conference that made me fall in love with hydropower. And there are thousands more young professionals waiting to feel that same spark.

      There are obviously many factors and dynamics involved in training and commissioning a skilled plant technician or operator. I would venture to say, however, that the spark of that process is the passion for the industry communicated by those about to leave it behind.

      If we are to ensure the future of this industry, that same passion and enthusiasm are going to be crucial components in drawing the next generation into hydropower.

      From conversations I’ve had with the next generation of hydro professionals, the industry is an exciting one, but one that has been on the outskirts of common knowledge. If we are going to propel this industry into the next century, hydropower MUST leave the shoreline and jump into the mainstream.

      The voice of hydro needs to extend beyond our annual meetings and quarterly retreats. While your communications team and public relations staff are highly skilled at communication, they cannot recreate the excitement that you feel talking about your vocation. Your voice is valuable, and more important than you know. Get into the schools! Brush up on your social media skills and create a presence in an arena saturated with young, inquiring minds. Set up visits to local colleges, buy a college kid a sandwich, and share your passion for hydropower. Be infectious. Be enthusiastic.

      I am not a masked superhero, or a plant manager; I am simply a young person and a member of the generation that is the future of this industry. Young professionals just like me are waiting on the sidelines, searching anxiously for that job that will be more than a daily chore, but a cause to put our knowledge, heart, and soul behind. An industry that we can sink our teeth into. A cause that we know is making the world a better place.

      At the risk of sounding cliché, the future of hydropower is now. The bills currently moving through the legislative process are just the tip of the iceberg of potential to be seen in this industry. Now is the time to recruit the team that will transform potential to reality.