Environment, Flood Resilience, People Spotlight, Sustainability, Water

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting a graduate engineer from our Water business in the United Kingdom and providing an insight into their inspiration and work. 

Murray Coburn joined AECOM in 2022 as a graduate engineer after completing a master’s degree in civil engineering. While in university, he gained valuable experience in the flood risk management sector working for local government during summer work placements. Having developed unique expertise in hydraulic modelling, flood risk assessment and design of blue-green infrastructure, he now works within our flooding team in Edinburgh. 

What inspired you to join the industry? 

My hometown has a rich history in the textile industry, and as such, developed around textile mills positioned for power generation on the riverbanks — and by extension, the floodplain. As a result, repeat instances of disruptive floods have plagued my town for years and are becoming more frequent as the effects of climate change ensue. Growing up in this environment has made me all too familiar with the disruptive and devastating consequences flooding can have on individuals, families and communities. However, as I discovered, engineers can play a huge part in mitigating this risk. 

During my latter years of high school, a large multimillion-dollar flood defense project was constructed to help protect homes and businesses in my town against flooding. The sheer scale of the project turned the whole place into a construction site, making the amazing engineering hard to ignore. Many residents and businesses are now afforded greater protection against frequent flooding and the wider community has benefitted from increased amenity value along the riverbanks as a result of new footpaths, cycleways, kids’ playparks and artwork.  

This sparked my interest in civil engineering. Knowing that my work could have such a positive impact on other similarly affected communities led me to pursue a career in the industry. 

During my latter years of high school, a large multimillion-dollar flood defense project was constructed to help protect homes and businesses in my town against flooding. The sheer scale of the project turned the whole place into a construction site, making the amazing engineering hard to ignore. This sparked my interest in civil engineering. Knowing that my work could have such a positive impact on other similarly affected communities led me to pursue a career in the industry.”

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

Undoubtedly the most rewarding project I have worked on is the Mansfield Sustainable Flood Resilience Programme — an ambitious plan to create the UK’s first ‘sponge city’ by retrofitting a range of sustainable drainage interventions to transform Mansfield into a greener and safer place to live, work and play. 

My team was responsible for planning and designing detention basins across the town to accept stormwater drainage from surrounding streets and relieve pressure on the existing sewer network. To simulate how these would benefit and integrate with the rest of the network, we pulled on our expertise in hydraulic modelling to create a digital twin for each basin prior to construction. Having a 3D representation of the proposed infrastructure also helped to design out utility clashes. One of the key challenges encountered during the design process was poor infiltration test results. We overcame this by creating an online solution — integrated into the wider sewer network as opposed to an offline solution where water is completely removed from the sewer network — whereby the basins hold back stormwater and discharge back to the sewer network through a flow control device at a reduced rate to attenuate flows. 

Being involved in the project all the way from initial site selection through to outline and detailed design has been a great learning experience. However, the best bit always comes last — construction. Seeing the product of your hard work in the flesh for the first time is a moment you spend years dreaming of whilst studying at university, so to finally experience this has been very rewarding. 

The Mansfield Sustainable Flood Resilience Programme was an ambitious plan to create the UK’s first ‘sponge city’ by retrofitting a range of sustainable drainage interventions to transform Mansfield into a greener and safer place to live, work and play. Being involved in the project all the way from initial site selection through to outline and detailed design has been a great learning experience.”

One of the many detention basins completed across the town of Mansfield, United Kingdom

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.

Part of the important work I support my team on are flood studies and surface water management plans which aim to propose mitigation options to reduce flooding in defined vulnerable areas. One such project I was recently involved in was for the town of Dunkeld, Scotland. Various mitigation options were considered including the creation of flood walls and earth embankments to protect development from out-of-bank river flow and culvert upgrades to raise the spill level and allow high flows to pass more freely. 

During a public consultation event, we engaged local residents and shared our mitigation proposals. One woman resident gave an emotional account of the distress and hardship she endured after unwittingly moving to a property at flood risk. Thanks to our work, many properties in Dunkeld — including that of the resident who shared her experience — will benefit from a greater standard of protection against flooding, decreasing flood risk from an annual probability of 50 percent down to 2 percent. There is now also a greater awareness of flooding in the community, with residents and businesses more educated on how they can make their properties more flood resilient. 

It is sometimes easy to lose track of the true reason and purpose of your work, but hearing personal accounts like this is a sobering reminder of its importance and is just one of many ways my work helps in delivering a better world. 

I was recently involved in proposing flood mitigation options for the town of Dunkeld, Scotland. Thanks to our work, many properties in Dunkeld will benefit from a greater standard of protection against flooding, decreasing flood risk from an annual probability of 50 percent down to 2 percent. There is now also a greater awareness of flooding in the community, with residents and businesses more educated on how they can make their properties more flood resilient.”

Share a piece of career advice. 

Many people consider being a ‘yes person’ as a negative trait — but I disagree! At AECOM, I have found no shortage of great early careers opportunities which is so important for gaining that breadth of experience to help discover your true passions. If you never explore such avenues, then you will forever wonder whether something exciting was waiting around the corner. Opportunities create opportunities. You never know where simply saying ‘yes’ may take you! 

Originally published Jun 11, 2024

Author: Murray Coburn