Due to geologic hurdles, the Calaveras Dam project in northern California grew to an $810-million budget and an eight-year schedule from a planned $416-million budget and four-year schedule. But without Susan Hou’s proactive approach to risk management and partnering, the project might have ground to a halt and led to finger-pointing and litigation, say her colleagues.

“The Calaveras Dam Replacement Project has faced a number of significant challenges during construction,” says Jim McClain, construction manager with Black & Veatch.

“Susan has kept the project team focused on the identification of potential risks and has been a strong advocate of proposed risk-mitigation measures, which have been successfully implemented to avoid schedule delays.”

Susan HouSusan Hou
San Francisco, Calif.
ENR 11/20/17 p. 38
Through formal partnering and a risk-management program that she designed, Hou guides one of the Bay Area’s largest water projects to completion.

Hou, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong in the early 1990s to attend college, was promoted last year to East Bay regional project manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). After college, she developed a risk-management program at a small, women-owned civil engineering firm. In 2009, she became SFPUC’s first risk manager, developing a standardized system to quantify risks and implement mitigation plans.

After joining the Calaveras project in 2011 and becoming its project manager in 2013, Hou guided the team through many challenges: abundant, naturally occurring asbestos, endangered species and radically variable site conditions, including the discovery of an ancient landslide that led to extensive redesign and an additional 1.5 million cu yd of excavation. Led by Hou, formal partnering sessions kept the team on track and maintained full transparency for stakeholders.

Hou navigates complex environmental permitting, engineering and water-supply requirements by moving efficiently and effectively between issues to “give everybody the sense that she has their best interests in mind while getting the task done,” says Dan Wade, director of SFPUC’s $4.8-billion Water System Improvement Program, which includes Calaveras. “She has engendered a very collaborative environment.”

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