‘We are creating a more powerful bond’

Published on: 9 July 2024, 15:07 hrs

Taira Baldauf, an American hydraulic engineer, spent as much as 5 weeks in Rotterdam this spring. Using the I-Storm network, she organized a staff exchange, which provided her with many insights. ‘Rijkswaterstaat looks even further ahead.’

The US Army Corps of Engineers

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is an American government agency that carries out infrastructure projects in the United States and abroad. Their tasks include water management, such as building and maintaining dams and dikes, environmental protection, and constructing military facilities.

They play a crucial role in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters. Taira Baldauf works as a hydraulic engineer in the Galveston district. She contributes her expertise to various tasks of the USACE.

You celebrated King's Day in Delft. Did you wear anything orange?

Taira: ‘Of course! I had already brought an orange shirt from America. And in the Netherlands, I bought an orange scarf. During King's Day, children also painted the Dutch flag on my cheeks. So, I really felt part of it. And what a fun celebration it was.’

Did you do anything else in your free time?

‘Staying in Rotterdam, I visited various tourist spots, including Kinderdijk and Amsterdam. And I enjoyed cycling on your bike lanes. But the weather… Every day was completely different. I even bought gloves and a hat. I'm not used to this weather in Texas.’

Why did you decide to come to the Netherlands?

‘All over the world, specialists work on storm surge barriers. And these specialists need each other. Together, we can build and maintain barriers better and more efficiently. For this reason, I have been an active member of I-Storm for a year now. This is an organization that brings together professionals from different countries to exchange knowledge and experiences.'

'This mainly happens digitally or through international events. Although we had been talking about staff exchange for a while, it had never happened before. But it seemed like a good idea to me. And all parties responded enthusiastically to my request. I-Storm and Rijkswaterstaat, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, my employer.’

And why the Netherlands?

‘Because the Netherlands has some of the largest and oldest storm surge barriers in the world. I was interested to see how the Netherlands ensures that these barriers remain functional in the long term.’

What did you notice about our storm surge barriers?

‘I visited four of them: the Hollandsche IJsselkering, the Maeslant barrier, the Eastern Scheldt Barrier, and the Ramspol barrier. They are all unique, not only in their appearance but also in how they operate. This made each visit fascinating.'

'But at the same time, all these barriers also had some interesting similarities and comparable solutions to challenges. I gained so much knowledge that I could take with me, back to the United States.’

Like what?

‘I deliberately came during the maintenance season. It's crucial to plan your maintenance in advance. We do that at the US Army Corps too. But at Rijkswaterstaat, you look even further ahead, 20 to 30 years, to determine what maintenance you will do and how you will get funding.'

'I got a good idea of how you approach this. And I also found it interesting to see how the maintenance of the different storm surge barriers is tackled collectively. I think this can also be useful in the US.’

What advantage does this have?

‘No matter how unique each barrier is, there are also many comparable maintenance tasks. Almost every storm surge barrier, for example, needs to be painted every few years to protect the steel. The process is the same, the planning, the contract mechanisms. It's much more effective to set up one team to handle the painting of all the barriers.’

Couldn't you have gained such knowledge digitally as well?

‘No. Not in detail, at least. Online, you often don't get much further than a general explanation of a project. I was able to speak with many different types of storm surge barrier experts. Asset managers, people from planning, design, weather forecasting.'

'And everyone had much more time for me. We could really go in-depth. Moreover, this builds a much stronger bond. And that helps us to work together even better in the future.’

What can we learn from the American approach in the Netherlands?

‘In the United States we are now working on designing storm surge barriers that can more easily adapt to new circumstances, such as rising sea levels. I think those designs could also be interesting for you when you want to improve the Dutch storm surge barriers.’

So it's time for someone from Rijkswaterstaat to do a staff exchange in the United States

‘Absolutely. I am the first to have undertaken a staff exchange through I-Storm, and hopefully not the last. We benefit so much from more and better interaction. As I already told some colleagues at Rijkswaterstaat during my trip to the Netherlands: you are very welcome here.’