The Last Word: David A. Severns, P.E.

Underwater Magazine had the opportunity to speak with David A. Severns, P.E., Senior Project Manager/Diving Supervisor, Bridge Inspection and Asset management, Stantec.

UNDERWATER MAGAZINE: How did you get involved in commercial diving?

I received recreational SCUBA certs in Florida back in the 1970s and started off doing everything from raising sunken boats in coastal waters to collecting golf balls from golf course ponds for spending money. I saw an ad in a SCUBA diving magazine for a commercial school, and off to commercial dive school I went. My first job out of dive school was ships husbandry work…a wheel job in the Houston Ship Channel, as I recall.

UM: What your responsibilities are at your current job?

Today, I’m an engineer diver and project manager for a large engineering firm, supervising and managing underwater engineering projects; primarily inspection and remediation of bridges, dams and other waterfront facilities. We’re between 20,000 and 30,000 employees, and global in scope. In addition to project management, I perform technical oversight, training and business development duties. By far, the best part of the job is working in the field on dive jobs, helping the younger engineer divers where I can.

UM: How have you been involved with ADCI?

I joined ADCI in 1986 as a diver. Around 1989, we formed an Underwater Bridge Inspection Committee.

Several years later, I was invited to join the ADCI Board of Directors (BOD), and later, the newly formed ADCI Engineering Diving Committee (EDC). Over the years, I’ve been privileged to assist the ADCI during several initiatives, including working with then Executive Director Dr. Ross Saxon on the newly incepted diver certification card initiative, vetting diver qualifications toward certification; working with the ADCI Board of Directors and EDC on the topic of dive training program development for engineers; and working with the BOD, Exec. Phil Newsum and the EDC to defeat the promulgation of an alternative, lesser commercial diver training standard by a prominent US-based engineering association, on the grounds of its dis-benefit to diver safety. We all worked hard as a team on that one.

Photo courtesy of David A. Severns, P.E.

UM: What has been the most rewarding part of your career in the underwater industry?

The relationships. The mutual respect and trust between good men and women. The training of the young guns. The hard work within the ADCI EDC as a team with the BOD. And the maturation of the inland, engineering-diving community.

UM: What types of issues are most prevalent in the industry now? How would you like to see ADCI approach these?

Diver credentialing remains an important issue. Back in the frenzied, early days of the ADCI commercial diver certification program, some individuals may have received certification who may not have possessed appropriate dive training and experience. I’d like to think that, through the re-certification process, much of the chaff has now been separated out, but I believe there is room for improvement in the vetting of both new applicants and those seeking re-certification.

Client education also remains vital, especially in engineering diving, where our clients (being engineers but typically not divers themselves) tend to focus more on technical engineering qualifications than on diving experience and ability.

Where will the industry be in five years?

Today’s buzz words are “asset management” and “preservation.” We recognize that asset owners are afforded nowhere near the funding levels necessary to perform all the betterments and replacements they identify. The engineer divers identify problems and may then design the resulting repair. But…are we collecting the best data in order to make the best asset management decisions? It all starts with obtaining quality data, and that means utilizing an integrated package of complementary technologies. One example might be the combining of acoustic imaging with traditional diving, as a standard operating procedure during the conduct of underwater structure inspections. My firm prefers to “drop the sonar before we drop the diver,” to maximize safety and efficiency of the inspection. Acoustic imaging and other technologies are especially important during emergencies such as flooding, when it is unsafe to splash a diver while destructive scour processes are at their peak. Another advancement on its way in the future lies with autonomous vehicles used in underwater inspection. I don’t see the diver replaced by robots in five years, but I do see the use of (solely) traditional diving methods yielding to a more integrated approach of diving along with complementary technologies.