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October 25, 2010

Calgary developing wind warning system to increase construction site safety

The City of Calgary is developing a custom-designed wind warning system to increase safety at downtown construction sites.

“Calgary has some very unique weather. Things can look fine at one moment and then the wind comes up very quickly, especially when you are on the 40th floor,” said Bob Robinson, general manager with Westcor Construction Ltd. “We would like to have a system that will use today’s technology to tell people on site when to batten down the hatches.”

Calgary is prone to gusty summer windstorms. In the last few years, there have been a number of incidents involving debris falling from downtown construction sites.

After an incident in August 2008, in which a three-year-old child was killed by a bundle of steel roofing materials, the local construction industry formed a committee to study improving safety. One of the committee’s first actions was to explore the feasibility of engaging a vendor to provide an early-warning weather system.

“The idea came from New York and Toronto, where they are considering something similar,” said Cliff de Jong, Calgary’s senior special projects adviser for building regulations. “However, we will attempt to take it to a slightly different level.”

The City of Calgary put out a request for proposals to develop a high-tech early warning system to monitor major weather patterns.

The system will send an alert to construction companies, so they can secure or remove building materials and equipment.

The winning proposal came from Rowan Williams Davies & Irwin Inc. (RWDI), an engineering consulting firm.

The company was awarded a $240,000 contract for the first phase of the project for software development and the use of the system for a year.

“Meteorological data is used in a software system to generate general or specific data,” said de Jong. “RWDI believes they can drill down to the site specific level, where they can identify weaknesses (vulnerabilities) during construction. At the end of the day we are looking for a system that individual sites will be tied into, that will give them advance warning.”

The new system will be developed from existing software called PLUME RT, which RWDI has applied in the oil and gas industry.

The city wants the first phase to be up and running no later than March 2011.

The system would map out wind tunnels that stream through Calgary’s highrise corridors. It would predict how specific projects in various locations and specific heights are impacted by these gusts of wind.

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