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Managing Variability In Monte Carlo

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1996 Annual Conference


Washington, District of Columbia

Publication Date

June 23, 1996

Start Date

June 23, 1996

End Date

June 26, 1996



Page Count


Page Numbers

1.309.1 - 1.309.5

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Paper Authors

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Zuhdi Al-Jobeh

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James E. Schueler

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Gerald R. Seeley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


Managing Variability in Monte Carlo

James E. Schueler, Zuhdi Al-Jobeh, and Gerald R Seeley Valparaiso University


In the past, for the most part, calculations were done using discrete values for variable quantities. Factors of safety were imposed to manage inherent uncertainties. However, with the advent of modern computer hardware and software, it is now possible to move away from this archaic mode of thinking. Using modern computational tools, our graduates will have the ability to estimate the probability of their designs satisfying applicable criteria. Thus, in order to prepare our students for practice in the 21st Century, the Valparaiso University Department of Civil Engineering is infusing its curriculum with computer-assisted Monte Carlo simulations. This paper presents the rationale and several examples using two different software packages. The presentation will give additional examples of homework which has been done this semester.

Managing Variability Through “Factors of Safety”

It is probable that the earliest civil engineers, practicing from intuition and experience, were painfully aware of the inherent variability of the physical quantities and properties with which they dealt. The desire to make their predictions more reliable led them to apply the developing principles of science to their art. Practice became ever more algorithmic and computational, always tempered by experience and judgment.

Until a few decades ago, civil engineers made their calculations “by hand” using slide rules or mechanical/electrical calculators. They were, therefore, generally limited to performing calculations once, and they were forced to select a single value for each variable involved in the algorithm. Engineers, generally aware of the uncertainties inherent in the numbers used, included a “factor of safety” to achieve what they hoped would be a “safe design.” This computational history led to a mind set in which engineers consider physical quantities to be representable by a single number (i.e., E = 29,000 KSI). This nearly ubiquitous mind set has generally prevented engineers from viewing and evaluating their projects as systems of interrelated random variables. Additionally, the “factor of safety” approach to managing the variability inherent in all physical quantities and properties precludes quantitative estimates of the chances of “failure.”

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Al-Jobeh, Z., & Schueler, J. E., & Seeley, G. R. (1996, June), Managing Variability In Monte Carlo Paper presented at 1996 Annual Conference, Washington, District of Columbia.

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