Going Virtual

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As we continued to make our way through uncertain times as a result of the lingering effects of COVID-19, we are seeing more and more remote interactions and virtual events. Here at Benjamin Media, we have largely been working remotely since mid-March when the full force of the pandemic became evident.

While we have been lucky that the process of working from home has been relatively seamless, other sectors of the economy have faced more difficult challenges – construction and manufacturing, for example, are limited in how well they are able to work remotely and socially distance. On the positive side, the contractors, manufacturers and owners I have talked to in the utility and tunneling markets have, in the short term at least, stayed busy, some saying that they have as much work as they can handle. As the pandemic continues to have an impact, the long-term forecast is less certain as impacted budgets could lead to difficult choices related to project funding.

One interesting impact has been the industry’s swift adoption of virtual events. In April, the UCA of SME announced that its live North American Tunneling Conference (NAT 2020), originally scheduled for June in Nashville, was cancelled and rescheduled as a virtual event held during the same week.

The format featured presentations from the original technical program, including an Owner’s Forum and Tunnel Demand Forecast. While attendance was not what it was for a live conference, it boasted a strong turnout of 222 registrants, who were able to participate in live Q&A sessions and attend a virtual exhibit hall.

NAT 2020 conference chair Jon Hurt of Arup stated: “While it was disappointing not to see everyone in person, the Virtual NAT week did allow some of the hard work by authors, session chairs/reviewers and the NAT committee to be put to good use sharing knowledge across the tunneling community. We appreciate the work by SME staff to transform the NAT conference into the online version and the sponsors who supported it.”

Likewise, the World Tunnel Congress (WTC 2020) has gone virtual. Originally scheduled for May, WTC 2020 was moved to September and then eventually changed to a virtual event. The re-scheduled dates of Sept. 11-17 remain in place for the virtual event. (Web: wtc2020.my)

The 13th annual Breakthroughs in Tunneling Short Course has also changed to a digital format and will be held Oct. 5-9. The course features a strong lineup of speakers that cover all aspects of tunneling from planning and design through to construction. (Web: tunnelingshortcourse.com)

Another highlight of the Breakthroughs in Tunneling Short Course is the presentation of the annual Tunnel Achievement Award, presented to a project that demonstrates successful completion of underground work, teamwork, use of innovation to overcome challenges, and overall impact to the community.

This year’s Tunnel Achievement Award winner is the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation’s Authority’s Regional Connector project, A 1.9-mile light rail subway line in downtown Los Angeles that will integrate existing lines and enhance mobility in the region and access within the downtown core. The award will be presented as part of the course on Oct. 9.

Jim Rush, Editor/Publisher, TBM

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