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As you may have seen recently in the news, the southern United States has been hard hit by tornados.  NABIE member and immediate past president David Carlysle, PE resides in Pleasant Grove, Alabama and his town of nearly 10,000 residents was nearly obliterated by a tornado on April 27.  While reports of the storm’s strength have varied, it appears to have been an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado, making it among the strongest – if not the strongest – type of tornado.  Pleasant Grove is also home to the Building Inspection Engineers Certification Institute.
I have spoken to David and while he and his wife, Gwen and their home are more or less unscathed, the desolation in his community is beyond description.  Both David and his wife work as first responder volunteers with their local fire department, with David having dual roles as both a paramedic and a fire fighter.
The town is presently under a 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM curfew, and some concerns have surfaced about looting.
My relatively short cell phone conversation with David found him sounding exhausted after spending hours on numerous rescue calls, some involving fatalities.  David indicated he and his wife had just taken shelter in the basement of their home when the first rescue calls started coming in.  As soon as it was relatively safe to leave, they were on their way to see what help could be provided by the fire department.
Dave described surreal scenes of being disoriented in his own community due to street signs, roads, and landmarks being obliterated or covered in debris.  Some rescue efforts centered on a group of 20 or so volunteers with chain saws and a backhoe attempting to clear paths to locations where help was needed.  In one case David was at a fire scene trying to control a fire with little or no equipment and a skeleton crew of fire fighters.
The church of one of the band members who played at our annual meeting had its steeple toppled.
NABIE’s graphic design consultant, Juanita Reed, has decided that in her role as a Girl Scout leader she will have her troop gather a “care package” to forward to Pleasant Grove residents care of David.  Those efforts are now underway and should result in a package headed south by May 6.
Over the years a number of NABIE members have gained first hand experience in some very significant disasters.  While the disasters themselves embody human tragedy in the extreme and must always be recognized as such first, a secondary gain often accompanies such events.  Every such event offers an opportunity to learn something about mitigating the effects of such occurrences in the future.  In that way all such catastrophes often can become laboratories for engineering knowledge.
This is one of the very rare times when a NABIE member has been directly impacted by a catastrophic event, but an engineer such as David is well positioned to not only learn from the situation, but to work first hand to reduce its effects.
All of NABIE joins in offering to David and Gwen both our thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.
*This article had been posted in the Spring 2011 edition of The Examiner.