Engineering Ethics: The Great Boston Molasses Flood (WEBINAR)

Course Number: ET-1033WN
Credit: 1 PDH
Subject Matter Expert: Mary McElroy, P.E.
Scheduled: This webinar will be scheduled again soon. Receive an email when it is scheduled by using the "Notify Me" link
Type: Live Interactive Webinar
Price: $59.90
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In Engineering Ethics: The Great Boston Molasses Flood , you'll learn ...

  • How the site selection process ultimately led to the large number of casualties
  • How project schedule constraints contributed to the disaster
  • Why the tank was not thoroughly leak tested


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Boston is home to much history and folklore. And, sometimes the history of the city sounds like folklore. One example is the case of the Great Molasses Flood. To those who have never heard an account of this disaster, it sounds too strange to be true. But, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

On January 15, 1919, following the failure of a storage tank, a wall of molasses 15 feet high flowed through the North End neighborhood of Boston at a speed of up to 35 miles per hour. The force by which the gooey substance moved was enough to sweep away cars and trucks, demolish buildings and even take out one of the supports for the elevated train that moved above the city.

The Great Molasses Flood caused the death of 21 people and killed countless animals. In addition, 150 people were injured. Although memories of the disaster eventually faded away, the smell of molasses would remain in the North End of Boston for decades.

This ethics webinar will look at how the pre-World War I environment in Boston’s North End resulted in the tank being located in such a densely populated area. We’ll see how the project’s almost impossible schedule contributed to the disaster. We’ll learn about the manager of the project, and how his education and work background left him ill-prepared to take on such a task.

We’ll see how an unusually high ambient temperature swing contributed to the tank’s failure. We’ll also discuss how the tragedy impacted the engineering profession, as well as industry as a whole. Finally, we'll discuss lessons to be learned from this incident which are still applicable to executing projects a century later.

Special Note: Course ET-1014 and course ET-1033W are alternate presentations of the same course material. Therefore, only one version, either the course or webinar, can be taken during a renewal cycle. If you have any questions regarding course eligibility, please contact our Customer Service Team.


Specific Knowledge or Skill Obtained

This course teaches the following specific knowledge and skills:

  • How the site selection process ultimately led to the large number of casualties
  • How project schedule constraints contributed to the disaster
  • Why the tank was not thoroughly leak tested
  • The unique weather conditions that precipitated the tank rupture
  • Warning signs that were not heeded by company managers
  • Why “out of spec” material was accepted by the project and how it affected the tank’s factor of safety
  • Why building codes, inspections and permitting processes failed to prevent the tragedy
  • Lessons learned from this tragedy, as well as its long-term impact on the engineering profession
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PDH credits

Webinars earn PDH credits for engineers in all states, unless otherwise stated in the literature for a specific webinar. For more details, check your state requirements.

ATTENTION NEW YORK, WISCONSIN AND IOWA ENGINEERS: Your states specifically require a certain number of "live" credit hours as a part of your PDH requirement. This webinar is provided by Decatur Professional Development, LLC and has been accepted by the New York State Board to fulfill this requirement. This webinars also meets the "live training" requirements of the Wisconsin and Iowa Boards.

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