Back to School Infrastructure

Off to school

This week we are putting our little ones back on yellow buses, saying tearful goodbyes, and slumping back into college classrooms. There’s nothing quite like it - the new notebooks, the clean rooms that will soon be a disaster, the excitement and anxiety. The one thing none of us want to think about is the condition of the actual structure we are going to be sitting in. Instead, we spend our time hoping that we got a good teacher and hopefully that crush of ours over there, with the beautiful eyes, notices we exist.

A bad report card

In his 1997 State of the Union President Clinton remarked the condition of America’s schools “How can we expect students to raise themselves up in buildings which are literally falling down.”

Goto 26:42

That hasn’t improved…

I’m going to directly quote a fantastic article on the topic by Lauren Camera at US News:

“The American Society of Civil Engineers gave public schools a D+ in its 2017 infrastructure report card, finding that more than 53 percent of schools would need to make investments toward repairs, renovations and modernizations to be considered in "good" condition.

‘If that isn't a national emergency then I'm not sure what is,’ says Kosta Diamantis, president of the National Council on School Facilities and director of school construction grants for Connecticut's Department of Administrative Services.”

America’s crumbling schools

A fantastic, albeit disturbing, looking at American School infrastructure was compiled by the Center for American Progress.

“The state of the nation’s K-12 public schools is well-documented. For example, a 2016 report on the condition of school facilities that are funded and operated by the federal Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) shows that 5 of the 13 schools visited for the report are in condemned buildings, meaning that the extent of their disrepair is so great that they cannot be occupied.6 

Schools in Baltimore and Detroit have made headlines for their dilapidated conditions—from having no heat in the winter to being plagued with roaches, rats, and mold.7 

Puerto Rico’s schools will likely take years to recover from recent hurricane devastation before being habitable.8 

A 2013 survey confirms data originally collected in 1996: that about half of America’s public school buildings are in similar states of disrepair and insufferable condition.9 As there has been little federal investment in school infrastructure since then, these conditions are likely worse today.10

Staring at scatter points

This dot staring is what InSAR folks spend the vast majority of their time doing, that is, when we are not explaining to someone what the hell InSAR is. There’s actually a nice little flow of the staring process.

  • Staring at shades of black and white reflections

  • Staring at image stacks (using that figuratively here)

  • Staring at algorithm processing swirly thing

  • Staring at automated results

  • Validating automated results (ooooh something not staring)

  • Staring at our nice and tidy finished scatter points indicating deformation

  • Staring at structures under those points and worrying

The worrying part starts another process of worrying that we can spare you from. However, if you happen to be responsible for the structures (and people) under those scatter points you’ll inevitably be pulled into this process - don’t worry we’ll be with you!

While working with some of the largest cities in the world we started to notice a unique class of key structures that nearly consistently showed worrying deformation trends, cracking, and subsidence issues. They were all schools.

We can do better than this

We work every day to develop new ways to help organisations better understand the scale and state of the infrastructure challenges they face. It’s been more than 20 years since President Clinton’s lament of the state of America’s school infrastructure and yet today we are in the same position, only with more deterioration. Talk about a motivator!

We all have been in those schools ourselves, and now are putting the most important part of us running down the same halls when our children head back to school.

InSAR is able to triage the schools of an area rapidly and deliver to policy makers and operators insight on how to prioritise funds and response.

As with any crisis it seems insurmountable at the wide angle. This new technology is here to help answer where to start taking it on, and when.