Standard Bearers: Philip Wildbore

Philip WildboreEDITOR’S NOTE:
NASSCO just completed its 42nd year and continues to set standards for the assessment and rehabilitation of underground infrastructure. As the association experiences remarkable growth, this series profiles those who have made significant contributions, and impacted the continued acceptance and growth of trenchless rehabilitation methods. This is a bi-monthly installment in a series of articles exploring the history of NASSCO through the eyes of industry leaders.

This month, NASSCO honors Phil Wildbore who was an integral part of the WRc team that developed data upon which the highly successful Pipeline Assessment & Certification Program was based. Wildbore spent much time in the United States aiding NASSCO with the adoption and development of the WRc codes into PACP.

My start in sanitation engineering began at the municipality of Leicester, England, in June 1970 at the age of 15 – the precise location where King Richard III’s remains were interred in 2015. If you would like to know more about this amazing story, there is an excellent documentary, “The King Under the Car Park” available on YouTube.

Joining this city with substantive Roman links imparted some early lifetime lessons. Within half a mile of where King Richard III was discovered, I was charged with designing and installing a small stormwater sewer. This was to accommodate some re-development and separate storm flows from a sanitary sewer. During implementation, I encountered a rectangular section of pipe made from stone. It was discovered this was part of a Roman drainage system that made its way to the river some three-quarters of a mile away. Given the Romans occupied Leicester – under the Roman name of Ratae – it was likely that what I discovered existed from around 145 AD.

I wanted to understand how a pipe like the one I discovered could last after 1,800 years. Being born and raised in Leicester it was with some embarrassment that my teenage exuberance got the better of me. I used copious amounts of a green tracing dye to find the outfall of this Roman pipe – which resulted in turning our nice river bright green for some days. Later in life I learned this is an annual March tradition in Chicago!

Raw recruit

It was unusual for a municipality to take on raw recruits (they preferred their own technical staff, who would hopefully train as PEs), sponsor them through university and then tie them to the municipality for a period of about three years after qualifying. I realized I thoroughly liked the work I did, and through six years of night school and day release courses, I finally reached the lowest levels where these PEs all started. As a mature student, the municipality then put a sponsorship package together for me to go to university and study civil engineering. As it was just my mom and me back in 1976, I rejected an offer from Cambridge University, because it was too far to travel home at weekends. I took a place in the UK’s second-largest city, Birmingham.

In 1977, I met my wife-to-be Allyson, and we were married shortly after I finished my degree. Somewhat miraculously, having done the obligatory training in highways, traffic, structures, etc., I found myself returning to the sanitation activities. There I led a team of 13, physically crawling through all the man-entry sewers of Leicester, every night for 11 weeks. In the early 1980s the UK was developing new ways of modelling and understanding wastewater assets. Within a few years, my efforts in the mathematical understanding of collection systems resulted in a job offer from the Water Research Center (WRc) in Swindon, which I joined on Oct. 1, 1985, complete with a 22-month-old son and a three-week-old daughter.

A fact that is often overlooked, or not sufficiently appreciated, is that the UK decided to move from a plethora of municipalities providing water supply and wastewater services, to river basin based “water authorities” in 1974. For large organizations, like myself in Leicester and Andy Drinkwater in Manchester, we worked through this transition period. In 1977, a report to our House of Lords concluded that much understanding was needed around the performance, management and maintenance of both water and wastewater networks.
Organizations like WRc were charged with all the problem solving. Having led the man-entry inspection in Leicester, coupled with early attempts to model the hydraulics of that collection system, made the 1985 offer to work with WRc irresistible. I joined after much of the inception research and development was completed, but still had the chance to implement it all over the planet. I considered it a gift, as we all do because we believe it is the right thing to do.

It is fair to say that the UK has some of the oldest engineered infrastructure, so rehabilitation needs are often encountered sooner. For everywhere else, there is a benefit of adaptation, or simply from being aware of our activities. A proven way to do this is by understanding the assets and how they work, and managing them accordingly. The global adaptation of best-practice asset management is what I care about most, after my wife and family.

Across the pond

In 1992 I moved to Philadelphia, Penn., on what was to be a three-year contract, but ultimately got extended. WRc Inc. was an office of no more than 10 people and our skills were buried in the mountain of partners seemingly necessary to bid for contracts in North America. The fact that WRc was not developed in the United States made adoption difficult. A turning point came with a Water Environment Federation contract titled Re-Engineering Collection Systems which, when completed in the early 1990s, was the world’s first CD-ROM on sewers. While this still didn’t get municipalities in North America beating a path to WRC’s door, it was a first attempt to dismantle the “not-invented-here” perception and develop aspects of the UK’s Sewerage Rehabilitation Manual.

I was coming to the end of my time in our Philadelphia office, our eldest needing to move up to senior school, so I began looking at other career options. There’s only so much of the good times one can take! I was aware of NAPPI in Canada offering some services based on the WRc Manual of Sewer Classification. However, with great fortune, Mike Burkhard contacted me around that time and was seemingly honest in his task for NASSCO.

May I say at this point there isn’t, and never has been, an equivalent to NASSCO – anywhere. In my view, Mike was a credible person to work with and together we were able to craft a deal. This was simply about carving out the most important segments for NASSCO and assembling a U.S.-based team, with myself matching the NASSCO needs with contracted support from WRc. As with all endeavors that succeed, it meant a lot of unpaid hours on both sides. As we know now, however, the development of the Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program (PACP) was an industry-changing success.

With Mike’s departure the reigns were handed over to Irv Gemora who, with an electrical background, could brighten up the lights and accelerate the show. The handful of “super trainers” became a growing franchise, and for WRc the regular royalties began a level of consistency that enabled me to annually visit NASSCO conferences and receive updates on “What is WRc Doing Now.” I witnessed first-hand the growth of attendance at NASSO events over the years, and the fact that many of the key folks at the inception of PACP always attended and freely gave their time was a major indication of success and continued commitment.

To quantify the influence of NASSCO, when back in the U.K. I was contacted by both Malaysia and India about versions of PACP. They hadn’t picked this up from the source work of WRc – like Mike had done – but had become informed of the step change in North America at the hands of NASSCO. I, of course, pointed all the same back to Irv, and we also trod a path together regarding NAPPI aspirations.
It has been 15 years since I was last personally with NASSCO, but being identified as a NASSCO Standard Bearer proves that wastewater links remain firm forever.

Related Articles

    Find articles with similar topics