Always on the look-out for new opportunities and cutting-edge technology, SRK Consulting principal civil engineer and senior partner Matt Braune has built the company’s Pretoria office from scratch to a staff of 24 in just over a decade and a half.
“I travel extensively to Europe, Australia and the United States to find new approaches and methodologies that could address the challenges we face on behalf of our clients,” he said.
With established expertise in river and stormwater management, Braune was able to get started in 1999 securing some of the office’s early work from the then-City of Pretoria, now City of Tshwane, who remain clients to this day.
Not long after its inception, SRK in Pretoria started developing innovative ideas on which to grow the business; the flooding in the region just a year after arrival in the capital set SRK thinking about the need for disaster management, and Braune went to work on finding solutions.
“We appointed a qualified expert, and attended a number of foreign conferences that showcased best practice in this field,” he said. “We were able to equip ourselves with specialist skills that South Africa did not have in great supply at the time and went on to developed a disaster management risk assessment tool that would suit conditions in Africa.”
This led to a modelling phase in which SRK was able to quantify the disaster risk and provide the necessary tools for organisations to proactively plan for possible disaster mitigation measures, thereby reducing the potential for loss of life and the risk of damage to developments.
Today this specialist approach has been adopted widely across the country and indeed into Africa. “The first substantial contract to conduct a full disaster risk assessment for the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality was undertaken in 1992,” said Braune. “This allowed the municipality to proactively implement risk reduction measures that would reduce the impact of natural disasters such as flooding – which previously had badly affected certain areas such as informal settlements. It could also provide the basis for better infrastructure planning, making it more resilient to potential damage from these events.”
He said the demand for these specialist services continues to expand to other parts of South Africa, and even beyond, with a string of high-level disaster risk projects being done in Botswana and Mozambique by SRK.
“The key here has been to integrate skills and experience in the built environment with those of scientists in other specialised areas,” said Braune. “The tools we have developed require the application of geographical information systems (GIS), mathematical modelling and software-related skills, to name a few.”
With the Mpumalanga coalfields on the doorstep, SRK in Pretoria also works closely on environmental issues related to the coal mines.
“With half a dozen environmental experts based in Pretoria we are able to address all environmental requirements for clients – both within South Africa and in the rest of Africa – a discipline well entrenched in the SRK network. Despite the recent decline in business from the gold and platinum mines, the coal sector keeps us busy, as do our large industrial clients in the chemical sector,” he said.
Innovative approaches have also been considered by the company with respect to river rehabilitation. Recognising the demand for this as pollution and erosion continue to plague South Africa’s river systems – especially in urban and peri-urban areas, SRK has learnt from the lessons of other countries.
By travelling to the United States – where they are quite a few years ahead of South Africa in the strategies they use to rehabilitate rivers, the company has had the time to explore and familiarise themselves with technologies being used in this field overseas.
Said Braune: “By procuring specialist software tools and adapting them for local application, we have been able to open the door into this area through several river rehabilitation contracts for various local councils within South Africa.”
Reflecting on the road to this point, Braune points to a combination of strong client relationships and the ability to try new approaches to find better solutions.
“We like to get to know our clients really well, and to understand the intricacies of their work and their challenges,” he said. “In this way we build up trust while also getting the insight we need to find the most sustainable and cost-effective solutions – especially if this means going out and finding a new approach to an old problem. In turn, this opens new niches for us and we can push the boundaries of technology.”
He said the office is well placed to build on its strengths, and can look forward to the growing contribution of the next generation of professionals it has attracted.
About SRK Consulting www.srk.co.za
SRK Consulting is a leader in natural resource and development solutions, providing independent technical advice and services through over 50 offices in 22 countries, on six continents. With an African presence in Angola, and practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, the global group employs more than 1,500 staff in a range of engineering, scientific, environmental and social disciplines.