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 NRRI Lends a Hand to New Orleans

Demolish or Restore? NRRI Helps Answer the Question.

Water-damaged homes left standing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina now face either demolition or restoration, but the decision isn’t always a clear one. Wood rot can be hiding insidiously within wooden beams or frames. The answer to the problem is technology. NRRI (UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute) researchers and colleagues at the USDA Forest Products Lab have perfected techniques to detect hidden water damage using ultrasound tools. Unfortunately, it's not possible for NRRI to go to New Orleans for an extended trip because of the shortage of housing and training sites.

Once again, the answer is technology.
NRRI’s Brian Brashaw and Bob Ross with the Forest Products lab in Madison were able to present an online, interactive presentation to New Orleans Director of Safety and Permits, Mike Centineo, and his staff in November. The presentation covered several techniques for detecting deteriorated wood using tools that don’t require cutting into the structure. They also presented case studies relevant to the problems in the water-damaged city.

“We’ve been studying nondestructive wood evaluation technologies for years,” said Brashaw. “We’ve taught these techniques to engineers and bridge inspectors, to historic home preservationists and to forest managers. The class for New Orleans was one of our most important.”

Photo: Above - After Hurricane Katrina. Public domain from Center: Typically, NRRI’s Brian Brashaw goes to the site of the damaged structure to teach course participants how to use new technologies to test for wood rot. Below: Because of the lack of housing in New Orleans, Brian Brashaw used Web seminar technology to conduct the wood assessment course with Robert Ross in Madison, Wisc.

Centineo, faced with unknown damage to historically valuable homes, knew he needed help and contacted Ross, who quickly pulled together some recommendations. Then Ross and Brashaw rounded up the technology they needed to give the short course online.

The Web seminar was based on a book written by Ross and Brashaw, along with Xiping Wang (NRRI), Robert White (Forest Products Lab) and Roy Pellerin (Washington State University) — “Wood and Timber Condition Assessment Manual.” Among other things, the online course explained how to use special ultrasound or impact-induced stress wave tools that detect wood decay. NRRI was also able to donate one of the tools to Centineo and his staff.

“The online web seminar allowed us to take the participants to several locations on the Internet that contain reams of information for their reconstruction projects,” Ross explained.


The New Orleans online course was the first of a broader initiative to add a technological advantage to wood inspection techniques—especially for assessing the condition of historic wood structures. The expanded project received a grant from Northern Initiatives and the USDA Forest Service Wood Education and Resource Center to develop a “Community of Practice” on the Internet specifically for inspection of historic wood structures. This Web-based community is a gathering place for anyone seeking information on the topic.

“We are frequently called upon to answer technical questions by a wide variety of agencies and individuals about assessing wood conditions,” said Brashaw. “It will be a great service to use Web-based information systems to share results from on-going research and knowledge gained from past inspections.”

For more info contact: June Kallestad, 218-720-4300,

UMD home page editor, Cheryl Reitan,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Latto,, 218-726-8830

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