VICKSBURG, Miss. – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) recently overcame the hurdle of conducting its annual Environmental, Navigation and Flood Risk Management Research Area Review Groups (RARGs) virtually due to physical distancing considerations related to COVID-19.
The RARG meetings, typically held over the course of a few days in April, are the cornerstones of the present USACE civil works research and development (R&D) process, facilitating review and ranking of research needs submitted by districts, divisions, centers of expertise and researchers across the organization. During typical in-person RARGs, the meetings also facilitate team-building, technology transfer and hands-on learning about facilities, emerging products and methods.
This year, spanning the entire month of April, USACE leadership, along with the Technical Programs Offices from the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center’s (ERDC) Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) and Environmental Laboratory, organized Environmental, Navigation and Flood Risk Management virtual RARGs to discuss, revise, combine and rank statements of need for future research.
“The most challenging aspect was scheduling across time zones and with consideration to increased workloads and the pressures of a teleworking scenario,” said Brandon Boyd, associate technical director for CHL. “Once those challenges were addressed, we had increased participation in the virtual format versus the in-person format likely due to no travel requirements by the attendees.”
“After logistics, it was adapting on the fly to changes in schedule and processes as we learned to do this 100% virtually for the first time,” he said. “Communication was more difficult without people physically together, but a dedicated Wiki site and help from the ERDC Corporate Communications Office allowed us to communicate consistent information and distribute resources.”
“Some attendees appreciated the ability to review materials at their own pace and discuss as a group in the online forum,” said Julie Rosati, technical director for Flood Risk Management at CHL. “Several of the streamlined methods developed during the virtual meetings to comment, rank and review supplemental material were successful and will be expanded for future use.”
The RARG serves several purposes in the ERDC civil works research, development and technology (RD&T) business area, including prioritizing research for next year; providing an update on accomplishments in research since last year; transferring technology of emerging tools, products and capabilities from the ERDC to the business lines in the field; and developing and strengthening relationships between the districts and ERDC principal investigators.
“The creation and fostering of relationships between USACE colleagues is a crucial piece of successful R&D,” said Boyd, reflecting on the drawbacks of the virtual engagement and the absence of in-person dialogue at the Flood Risk Management RARG. “The virtual environment didn’t provide for the same type of in-person technical discussions that result in exchange of technology and ideas that spur future efforts and collaborations. That considered, the needs of the field were heard, discussed and prioritized. We were able to hear from our USACE leaders on their strategic vision for R&D.”
ERDC’s civil works RD&T business areas provide innovative and environmentally sustainable solutions to the nation’s water resources challenges. All R&D is performed by innovative engineers and scientists that anticipate, create, deliver and maintain the scientific and technological resources required to solve these challenges.
The following is a list of ERDC’s RD&T programs:
Environmental RD&T programs:
Ecosystem Management Research and Restoration Program
Aquatic Nuisance Species Research Program
Aquatic Plant Control Research Program
Navigation RD&T programs:
Coastal Inlets Research Program
Dredging Operations and Environmental Research
Dredging Operations Technical Support
Dredging Innovations Group
Inland Electronic Navigation Charts
Monitoring Completed Navigation Projects
National Coastal Mapping Program
Navigation Systems Research Program
Regional Sediment Management Program
Flood and Coastal Risk Management RD&T programs:
Flood & Coastal Systems
Coastal Ocean Data System
Coastal Field Data Collection