Learning to get to “Yes,” was one of the goals of San Francisco District’s new Engineering With Nature Interactive Training that 20 personnel from a wide range of interdisciplinary fields participated in Oct. 18 at the District’s headquarters. The participants invested three hours of their day in a conference room divided into project development teams working through a scenario provided by the EWN Planning Team, led by Coastal Engineer Tiffany Cheng, PE.
“Our PDTs are increasingly being asked to consider nature-based solutions as part of our civil works projects and to lead the way in delivering climate resiliency in our communities, project by project,” Cheng said. “The purpose of this training was to give staff a sandbox where they could take on a role in a PDT in a training scenario focused on evaluating the tradeoffs of various green-to-gray solutions and selecting or developing an alternative that meets their needs, outside of the real constraints of budget and schedule.”
There were three teams in the class, each taking on the role of coastal engineer, harbormaster, transportation agency representative, environmental resource agency rep, and community leader. Each team had to come to consensus (i.e., get to yes) and select or develop an alternative that would best support their overall goals for adaptation, coastal defense, navigation and recreation in the project scenario. There were six alternatives that were pre-developed and presented in the class material, but teams were also encouraged to combine and create their own alternative.
SPN Project Manager Allison Conn thought the training was a great opportunity to prepare for a project she is working on that will use nature-based solutions.
“I learned how to work with a PDT and stakeholders to explore alternatives for a coastal flood risk management project,” she said. “The alternatives ranged from gray infrastructure to green EWN solutions. We were coached on negotiating and modifying alternatives to suit everyone’s needs and eventually agree on a solution. The experience I gained from the scoping exercise was helpful and is something I will apply to my USACE project.”
Applying EWN to Corps’ projects was another goal of the training, and it was something that Julie Beagle, SPN Environmental Planning Section chief, is working to instill throughout the district and the Corps itself.
She believes the idea of integrating nature-based solutions into projects in new ways to address coastal storm risks and flood-risk management problems, as well as yielding ecosystem benefits, is something that is ingrained into the way people working in the Bay Area think.
“What I hope people get from this training is it was helpful to think about different types of nature-based solutions that people hadn’t really thought of before and ways that they can be used together with gray infrastructure to achieve more benefits. So, it’s like thinking outside the box, thinking outside of your traditional role and also learning new tools,” said Beagle, one of the training instructors.
She and the District’s EWN Planning Team want Corps’ PDT members to sit in another person’s shoes and think about how another agency or another type of professional might look at a problem and think about better ways to come to a more holistic solution.
The team, which also includes Environmental Planners Tami Church and Jeneya Fertel, is looking to incorporate feedback about the activity to improve the training, as they hope to have the EWN training materials available to share with other Districts via ERDC EWN and the intranet, so they can run a workshop for their staff or develop their own.
“I think our main message is meeting the challenges of the future is going to require us to do things differently, to work across sectors and disciplines and to be creative because these are really hard problems that we are trying to solve,” Beagle said. “An interactive training like this is one of many ways that we can coalesce as a district and really learn from each other and try to embrace this challenge of engineering with nature.”