• Shelly Elliott

From “One Shining Moment” to “One Defining Moment”- An Engineer’s Approach to COVID-19

This time of year, our house is typically fully engrossed in March Madness while at work, I am focused on delivering the end of the first financial quarter. This year is very different on both fronts. There will be no “One Shining Moment” segment of tournament highlights after the NCAA championship game. However, I do think that for many of us, there will be a “One Defining Moment” when we realized that both the world is in a different place than it was a few months ago and that we must, as a global community, band together to defeat this virus.

COVID-19, declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, has created a public health emergency that will be a defining lifetime event. Many in our generation are calling this the World War II, Vietnam War, or Gulf War equivalent for Millennials and Gen Y’ers. The virus’s fast spread and exponential rise in confirmed cases in multiple regions of the globe is increasing the probability the more humans will continue to be exposed and afflicted unless measures are taken to prevent the transmission. Governments, companies, universities, and other organizations are taking many steps to both "flatten the curve" and "raise the line" so we can limit the virus's impacts. Check out the video below:

Note: I am not affiliated with and am purely sharing for educational purposes.

Social distancing is the most important thing we can all do today. Social distancing is used to describe a friendly, non-offensive desire to put at least six feet of distance between people at all times and encouraging individuals to limit social interaction. In practice, social distancing can mean sitting every other seat in a conference room, working from home, limiting the number of people that can be in one area at a time, conducting meetings virtually, not traveling, not playing or watching sports, and limiting face to face time spent with family and friends. While some may view social distancing as a personal and business interruption, it is a proven scientific measure that slows the spread and drastically reduces the probability of contracting the virus.

As an engineer and operations manager, my brain is trained to think about risk as the product of probability and consequence. Social distancing is a way to drastically reduce the probably of contracting the virus to near zero. The consequences of spreading the virus are high, and it has the potential to impact people of all ages, locations, professions, ethnicities, and whatever other adjective chosen. I’ve heard people say, “Well, the death rate isn’t that high compared to other health issues.” And yes, that is true, but I’d hate to think we live in a world where we measure the impact to society solely based on death.

Nearly every area of our lives as we know it is at risk: families, friends, safety, personal health and well-being, economy, financial health, and the very infrastructure at which our healthcare and other industries rely on to operate. I’ve heard people say they’re willing to accept the risk for themselves, and some will dismiss the risk that this poses to others. This mindset is selfish, and science proves it wrong. Sacrificing our normal social and work lives for a little while and adhering to strict social distancing standards is for the greater good of humanity.

In the U.S., there’s an association called the Order of Engineers that every engineering graduate from an accredited university or certified professional engineer is invited to join. This was modeled from Canada’s Ritual Calling of the Engineer. Engineers take the oath below before being presented with a stainless steel pinky ring. Many other professions take oaths and wear a symbol of that oath, as well. As we were starting to ramp up our response efforts a few weeks ago, I thought of the Order and the oath I took, never dreaming that humanity would be in a situation that it is today. Read through the oath below once as is. Then read through it again and replace engineer with human, and consider the term profession to represent you as a part of humanity. We aren’t all engineers, but we are all human and we all play a part in being kind to one another. Stay safe.

Order of Engineer Oath

I am an Engineer.

In my profession I take deep pride. To it I owe solemn obligations.

As an engineer, I, (full name), pledge to practice Integrity and Fair Dealing, Tolerance, and Respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making best use of the Earth's precious wealth.

As an engineer, I shall participate in none but honest enterprises. When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good.

In the performance of duty, and in fidelity to my profession, I shall give the utmost.

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