The American Society of Civil Engineers has produced a manual of policies and procedures for organizing and conducting damage assessments after man-made or natural disasters.
The Post-Disaster Assessment Manual was developed on the recommendation of an independent task force, led by Sherwood Boehlert, retired congressman and former chair of the House Science Committee. The task force was asked by ASCE in late 2007 to review its damage-inquest and peer-review practices after the credibility of some recent investigations, particularly the peer review of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-funded study of Hurricane Katrina, was challenged by critics. They said issues related to funding sources, communications and alleged conflicts of interest aroused suspicion of bias. Although neither the Boehlert study nor an internal review found lapses of integrity, tightening up and documenting the organizing and operating principals of such inquiries was strongly recommended.
H. Gerard Schwartz, chairman of the committee that authored the manual, says the work will help support ASCE members who conduct its investigations. “What we were trying to do was develop a set of procedures we could hand to our members or organization entities and say, ‘Here is the way we ought to approach a post-disaster assessment so it has the highest level of objectivity.’ It’s important that professionals—who volunteer their efforts, by and large—can be given a task like this and that it be done without anybody being able to scream and holler that we were biased or conflicted.”
The procedures partially reflect ASCE’s past practices but also incorporate best practices gleaned from about 20 other organizations studied. “We believe it puts us beyond any suggestion of bias or conflict of interest,” says Schwartz. The manual can be downloaded at the group’s Website, www.asce.org.