Specialising in disaster search and rescue engineering
Being deployed on search and rescue and damage assement missions in the Nepal earthquake (2015) and Hurrican Irma (2017)
Becoming a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2023
A day in my life
It’s fairly varied. I mainly model building damage due to natural disasters using special computer software. This can be immediately post-disaster, or pre-disaster (calculating damage for likely future events).
The post-disaster work is generally very pressured, working to pull together information about the disaster’s intensity, the pre-disaster building population, and the levels of reported damage.
The pre-disaster projects are longer-term capacity-building (or risk communication) projects that involve doing similar work, but more detailed over a longer period.
That’s my day job, but I also volunteer as a search and rescue engineer, which involves spending weekends away training with rescue teams. This means taking part in exercises to locate and extract people trapped in collapsed buildings.
I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also ... a humanitarian.
Engineering has so many useful applications for positive societal change. Taking a systems view and looking to apply engineering skills for people that need it most, is a key motivator of my work now.
My career inspiration
I was already a graduate engineer at the time, but the person who’s inspired me the most to progress in this career and follow my passion, is Past ICE President Paul Jowitt.
I was lucky enough be a President’s Apprentice to Paul, when he spent the year teaching us to take a systems-view of engineering projects and programmes, and to apply our technical engineering knowledge in a way that achieves wider societal impacts.
The learning of that apprenticeship has directly shaped my career choices since, inspiring me to pursue a PhD in building damage predictions for earthquakes and tsunamis, volunteer as a search and rescue engineer, and to apply engineering to disaster risk with the World Bank aiming to achieve systems-level impacts.
We asked Joshua…
what’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?
That engineers are required to operate in so many arenas.
You’re required to be a technical expert; managing teams and resources to meet deadlines and challenging objectives, while also operating in a commercial and legal environment.
It’s all about enjoying learning, being part of a team, and relishing the challenges!
which civil engineering myth(s) you would like to bust?
That engineers aren’t ‘people’ people. For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job is the constant interaction with people, from colleagues and design teams to the people that we work with from other organisations.
which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?
Not a civil engineering project, but: the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
I was an engineering student at the time, watching it on TV. I remember reading about the work of the many engineers who contributed to the responses and recoveries in the 14 countries that were badly affected and thinking that I’d like to be able to use my engineering in this way one day, too.
what about being a civil engineer inspires you?
I want to apply my experience to help protect lives and livelihoods from disasters worldwide. To know that the work I do will benefit people affected by future disasters drives me. It’s also a humbling and inspiring experience to work with dedicated engineers and emergency managers within disaster relief – one of the many reasons why I volunteer.
would you recommend a career in civil engineering?
I don’t think many people realise the positive impact that engineers have on our world. That was what hooked me – the idea that I could use my love of maths and science to get actively involved in humanitarian work and save lives.
I did my A levels and after that I spent a pre-university gap year working in the research and development department of Arup.
I then studied Engineering Science (MEng) at Oxford University, working throughout the summer breaks to build my experience.
After graduation, I spent a year volunteering in a town in rural South Africa, before moving back to work in London again. For nearly 5 years I worked on some fantastic design projects with some excellent teams and mentors.
I then began volunteering as a search and rescue engineer with the SARAID organisation, went to the Japan tsunami with the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team, and started an engineering doctorate at UCL looking at building damage predictions for earthquakes and tsunamis. .
After completing the PhD I’ve worked in applying engineering to disaster risk modelling, now with the World Bank.
SARAID training keeps me busy many weekends, but otherwise I might be practising the martial art jiu-jitsu to stay fit or relaxing with friends and family.