After seeing the terrible photos and videos last weekend, three thoughts:
1. We are sad and dispirited at the tremendous loss of life and damage.
2. Whatever we’ve had to complain about at home pales in comparison. On Friday I was preoccupied with snow damage at the end of a harsh New England winter. On Saturday I was grateful that I have a roof on my house, food, and probably won’t have to deal personally with tidal waves and magnitude 8.9 earthquakes.
3. As an engineer, my training is in problem solving and fixing things. The thinking is that you define a problem, study it, develop alternatives, pick an optimum solution, shake hands, and then move on to the next problem. But what if you can’t solve the problem? Many lessons will be learned from the tragedies that unfolded last weekend. Seismic codes will be improved. Early wave detection will advance. Nuclear power cooling systems and failsafe mechanisms will become more reliable. But the most difficult lesson to be learned may be that problems like 30’ tall tsunami can be ameliorated somewhat, but can’t be solved.
Our engineering process mimics divinity- we create something from nothing. But we’re human beings and not divine, so our efforts sometimes will be like the fable about construction of the Tower of Bable – reaching for heaven, but never arriving and then living in the aftermath of our attempts.