'Science Cafe' addresses lessons to be learned from disasters

AMES, Iowa -- Max Porter recently clicked through a few of the photos he took while inspecting homes damaged by last summer's flooding in Cedar Rapids.

Here's a house completely off its foundation, he said. And here's one building lodged against another.

Porter, an Iowa State University professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, has hundreds of the shots. He spent 10 days in Cedar Rapids as part of a team from the Institute for Building Technology and Safety. He and other structural engineers helped city inspectors evaluate the safety of homes and apartment buildings.

Porter will share some of those experiences during a "Science Cafe" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, in the Northeast Mezzanine room at Legends American Grill at 200 Stanton Ave. near the Iowa State campus. His theme will be "Learning from Disasters: Cedar Rapids Floods and the World Trade Center." The event is free and open to the public.

This is the third Science Cafe at Iowa State this academic year. The events are sponsored by the Iowa State University chapter of Sigma Xi -- an international, multidisciplinary scientific research society.

The idea is for scientists and engineers to share their research through informal conversations in a friendly setting, said William Simpkins, the president of Iowa State's chapter of Sigma Xi and a professor of geological and atmospheric sciences.

In addition to sharing his experiences in flood-damaged Cedar Rapids, Porter will also discuss engineering studies of the collapsed World Trade Center. Porter was president of the Structural Engineering Institute when twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., were hit by airliners in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The institute sent two teams -- one to the World Trade Center and one to the Pentagon -- to study the failures inside the buildings.

The towers' collapse taught engineers they need to find ways to improve the safety of tall buildings, Porter said. Engineers, for example, need to take steps to contain any kind of fire that ignites inside a building and should consider building an escape room on each floor or series of floors.

Porter said the Cedar Rapids flooding was a reminder to engineers and planners to avoid building neighborhoods, businesses, fire stations and hospitals in the middle of a flood plain.

"We see cities make these mistakes over and over," Porter said. "And that's something we as taxpayers need to be concerned about."