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Lessons Learned: Decision Making for Sustainable Projects and Careers

Sustainable projects, engineering practice, and professional careers rely on good decision making, which is the focus of this talk. Two catastrophic failures are examined in the context of decisions made at key moments in time. One of the most catastrophic engineering failures in our lifetimes was the 2005 failure of the New Orleans levees as a result of storm surge from Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, flawed engineering decisions caused the tragic failure. The ill-fated decisions included acceptance of unsound design criteria, engineering determinations that were unsafe, and failure to heed and act on results of key tests.

Poor choices made at key moments caused the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in 2010, which led to loss of life and a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite very challenging engineering requirements, the well-closure process continued without implementing critical pre-closure elements, without confirming the integrity of the cement sealing material, and without giving prudent consideration to well integrity test results.

The flaws in decision making for these two disasters have much in common and offer useful and sobering lessons for the practicing engineer. The talk concludes with some observations from a career as both an engineer and an academic leader about leadership choices that can sustain good decision making, effective team work, and a successful career trajectory.


David E. Daniel PhD, PE
President Emeritus
University of Texas at Dallas