Using Collaboration and Communication to Reduce Geotechnical Project Risk

August 25, 2017

One of today’s buzzwords is “Risk.” We all have experience with the prime example of risk and risk mitigation: insurance. Simply stated, insurance mitigates financial risk by paying some money to make sure that we never have to pay a lot of money if something goes wrong.

Risk is certainly relevant to the geotechnical profession. It comes into play when characterizing the subsurface soil, rock, and groundwater conditions (which, it turns out, can be quite variable), evaluating foundation design options, and selecting a particular design addressing the pertinent construction and performance problems to the satisfaction of the owner’s risk tolerance. But who “owns” the risk, and how is it exposed and mitigated?

 Preparing you to make informed decisions

Communication is a critical aspect of risk awareness and mitigation. At Terracon, we have developed a collaborative platform to inform our clients of the site conditions, foundation options and risks associated with the options. We want our clients to be well informed. With the right information, you can make the decisions that impact your construction costs and schedules, and adequately address your risk tolerance.

Using our web-based GeoReport platform, we inform you of subsurface condition, and associated compatibility considerations for your planned structure, and suggest various foundation designs and means of construction, noting the risks associated with each. For instance, a larger foundation, which may be more expensive, and slowly constructed, can reduce the obvious risks; however, a well-informed owner can select a foundation choice consistent with his or her risk tolerance, perhaps one that shortens construction time or reduces cost and maximizes value. To accomplish this interaction, vibrant collaboration among the consultant, owner, and other appropriate team members is essential.

The Hidden Risk

Geotechnical risk considerations can include unforeseen construction delays, unexpected subsurface conditions, poor foundation performance (such as excessive movements), and end-user safety.  There is also another risk that is always present, yet rarely discussed: the risk of excessive foundation costs and associated construction time for foundation elements that were not necessary in the first place. Overly conservative designs are the result of insufficient designer/owner collaboration and insufficient risk assessment. Just as it is important to understand risk exposures when buying insurance to avoid being over- or underinsured, collaboration is essential for a more complete understanding of your risk tolerance and can lead to more efficient designs and improved long-term performance.

Learn more about GeoReport

For a quick introduction to GeoReport, how it quickly provides the information we gather, our geotechnical recommendations for design and construction, and how it allows all stakeholders to think through the options together, watch this 80-second video.


We encounter risk in all we do, and that certainly applies to geotechnical aspects of construction. At Terracon, we are building a better way to work with you, our clients, as a team to understand and mitigate risks on your next project.

Vic DonaldVic Donald, P.E., is the national director of geotechnical services. He has more than 35 years’ experience in geotechnical and geo-environmental engineering working with clients and geotechnical engineers across the country.

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