ICE International Medal award winner and former ICE Spain representative Jose Cordovilla, writes about #InfraestructurasCovid, a volunteer expert group he founded to distill technical knowledge through the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 crisis puts everyone in charge of our infrastructure under extraordinary pressure.
Most countries have thousands of civil engineers with the knowledge and experience in planning, construction, maintenance and operation of infrastructure. So it is our duty to help, to bring those resources to wherever they might be needed. Today’s technology makes this possible but this isn't an engineering problem but one of health, social life and economic activity, all of which depend on infrastructure.
The only way to help is through open collaboration with others. It really takes a crisis to understand that at an intuitive level. We have the knowledge, experience, information and communication tools to inform infrastructure decisions. So what's the missing ingredient? Open collaboration. Here's what we did it in Madrid.
Taking the leap of faith
On 15 March I gathered my thoughts and published a statement explaining my view and calling for action.
On 17 March I started up #InfraestructurasCovid, an online volunteer community, with the help of some friends and the support of the Madrid chapter of the Spanish Institution of Civil Engineers, with the following vision: 'A not-for-profit community of volunteers, infrastructure experts and related professionals who collaborate to help those who make decisions about infrastructure during the Covid-19 crisis, in the recovery phase and in anticipation of future scenarios'.
We developed governance mechanisms including a community guide, a guide for coordinators, an executive committee and a roadmap. The community’s guiding principles are; social responsibility, transparency, technical rigour, inter-generational solidarity, collaboration with other professionals, work discipline and humility towards the society we serve and our peers.
Results after one month
As of 17 April our virtual community counted almost 300 people and seven projects, three of which have already delivered results. These are:
- A technical guide for the identification and assessment of non-health facilities: For adaptation and temporary use as supporting infrastructure for the health system. A team of civil engineers, a doctor, an architect and a facility manager have prepared this guide, which has been distributed among national and regional authorities.
- Guide for the use of urban car parks for Covid-19 tests: Four civil engineers, a doctor and a car park expert have prepared this comprehensive guide to explain why urban car parks are suitable for conducting Covid-19 tests and the criteria to assess them.
- National Data Platform: Several civil engineers, a mathematician and an economist are gathering examples and guiding principles for data-driven responses to infrastructure management during the crisis. This would allow governments, the private sector and civil society to share data to support recovery strategies, for example linking transport facilities and the capacity of systems with infection status and health risks.
We recently started a project to assess the current situation of the construction sector and adapt best practices with other countries. We wanted to provide recommendations, including an independent report to outline our strategic vision of the Spanish infrastructure sector through the crisis and after.
Other work in progress includes; recommendations for a rational use of telecommunication networks to increase availability ratios; supporting access to basic services by road freight drivers and promotion of user networks for 3D-printing of medical equipment.
The community uses tools like Google Suite and Slack to communicate and work collaboratively, as well as social media, email and websites to share our knowledge.
Why I did it
During those first days in the house wth my family in Madrid, I went through a strange mix of moods: intense curiosity, then fear and perplexity, through to frustration. What could I do to help? Then it clicked. The idea that our purpose as civil engineers is to solve the collective problem of infrastructure and deliver assets is only half the picture. The other half is a civil engineer’s objective is also to deliver, lead and engage with the human collectives that make infrastructure work as a pillar for civilization. There is no civil engineering, today or tomorrow, without collaboration.
Looking into the future as a civil engineer
The more complex the world grows, the more relevant collaboration skills become. Open collaboration is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, tenacity, flexibility and sense of humour!
We all share a reason why we created the community, to help our country and our communities overcome the crisis and to utilise a voluntary organization of experts free from the limitations of conventional institutions.
As a founder of this initiative, I also have a personal aspiration to lead by example and claim collaboration, ingenuity, empathy and generosity as fundamental values of our profession. When we align our talent towards a common purpose, we can do extraordinary things.