FEMA Bridge Specialists Check Spans For Damage

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Release date: 
August 20, 2009
Release Number: 

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Frank Nauman has had a long day of traveling across miles and miles of paved, gravel and nearly impassable section-line roads scattered across the North Dakota countryside. He's in the field to check reports of bridges damaged in the spring and summer flooding.

Ignoring mosquitoes, ticks and the stares of neighboring cattle, Nauman drives past the "Road Closed" signs as he points his rented four-wheel-drive vehicle down a little-used path (average daily traffic count 5) and stops just short of the last bridge-a "three-cell box culvert" crossing placed in 1954.

Basically three square concrete tunnels connected side-by-side to make a base for the roadway, the box culvert has held up well, but the churning river has scoured out a hole nearly 8 feet deep underneath the culvert, threatening the stability of the bridge.

This day he'll see six bridge sites, but only this one will get his special attention as a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) technical assistance contractor, or "TAC." This particular TAC is a bridge specialist with 22 years of engineering experience in the private sector, four of it working in disaster environments.

He's looking for structural damage caused by the disaster and it takes his special knowledge to separate the long-term decay from new damage caused by the storm.

After the assessment, he'll prepare a "project worksheet" describing the work necessary and funding needed to repair the disaster damage. The "PW" will go through the approval process and be looked at by FEMA, state Public Assistance program managers, and environmental review officials. Once everybody signs off, federal money will be released to the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (NDDES) on behalf of the local applicant requesting reimbursement for disaster damage.

Russ Kroshus, a state Public Assistance project officer, has already seen most of the bridge sites and accompanies Nauman on his site assessments. Kroshus had a career in construction before he started working for NDDES. He is familiar with the territory and well qualified to process the other sites that the two have seen this day. These will be submitted as road repairs.

Kroshus holds the end of the tape as Nauman measures the bridge. Then, the two climb down the embankment to take a closer look. Using the tape measure, Nauman measures the scour hole and the two discuss how much material it will take to fill it. Back on the road, they compare paperwork, look at state bridge inspection reports, and decide what Nauman will need to complete the PW.

Traveling miles to visit bridges he won't work on is a time-consuming, but necessary, process. Expert opinion is necessary to rule out damage that an untrained eye might miss.

"Not every county is like this," says Nauman.  "Sometimes, every bridge I look at is one I do the work on."

His job is only to verify disaster damage, not do safety inspections, but applicants are alerted if he finds a bridge in a condition that concerns him.

Nauman also keeps an eye out for possible mitigation measures that might be employed to reduce the possibility of damage in a future storm. In this case, some rip-rap protection on the upstream side of the bridge might prevent another scour hole from developing. On eligible projects, FEMA will add a percentage to the repair reimbursement for these mitigation activities, hoping to save taxpayer dollars down the road.

Nauman, a Licensed Professional Engineer in three states and a Licensed Structural Engineer in his home state of Illinois, is one of two TAC bridge specialists that FEMA has deployed to North Dakota since the disaster was declared in March. The other is Kathleen Ruvarac, from Florida.

Both are in a race against time and North Dakota's notoriously short construction season. More than 200 damaged bridges have been reported to FEMA and st...

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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