Serving professionals in engineering, environmental, and groundwater geology
since 1957


Date: Tuesday, March 14th, 2006
Location: Steven’s Steak House, 5332 Stevens Place, Commerce, California

Time: 6:00 p.m.-Social Hour; 7:00 p.m.-Dinner; 7:45 p.m.-Presentation

Cost: $30 per person with reservations, $35 at the door, $15 for students with a valid Student ID

Reservations: Please call (323) 889-5366 or email

SPEAKER: Jerry D. Higgins, Ph.D., P.G.


Rock fall refers to the detachment of rock from a steep slope along a surface on which little or no shear displacement occurs. The material rapidly descends a slope by falling, bouncing, or rolling. Except when the displaced rock has been undercut, falling will be preceded by small sliding or toppling movements that separate the displacing material from the undisturbed mass. Rock fall may involve more than one rock, but does not include large volumes such as rock slides.

The traffic on highways crossing steep topography has steadily increased resulting in an increase in the number of rock-fall related accidents and deaths. In the past 20years or so, transportation departments have become increasingly concerned with identifying rock-fall hazard and attempting to reduce the risk of accidents along heavily traveled routes. The resulting research has led to the development of new management, analyses and mitigation techniques that make it possible to stabilize or control many of the smaller, but high risk, potential rock falls. Today, these developments are commonly applied throughout civil, environmental, and mining practice.

Engineering geologists have had the tools for many years to recognize structural or environmental conditions that may increase the potential for rock-fall events. Research in the early 1960s developed an empirical method to design effective rock-fall catchment ditches along roadways. Beginning in the 1980s several computer programs were written and tested that were effective in helping engineering geologists predict how rocks behave as they bounce down slopes, which aided in catchment ditch design or the placement and design of rock-fall barriers on the slope. Several versions of rock-fall inventory systems were developed to aid engineering geologists in selecting priorities for remediation. Many full-scale rock-rolling experiments have been conducted for calibration of computer programs or as a basis for design of barrier or ditch systems. Various types of rock-fall barriers were designed and underwent full-scale testing. Today rock-fall analysis and mitigation has become relatively sophisticated and geologists and engineers have the tools to analyze slopes for rock-fall hazard and to construct rather sophisticated stabilization or catchment systems.

This presentation will review the development of important rock fall assessment and analysis tools, the various mitigation techniques, and full-scale-testing of rock-fall barriers.


Jerry D. Higgins, Ph.D., P.G. is the 2006 Jahns Distinguished Lecturer. The Association of Engineering Geologists and the Engineering Geology Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA) jointly established the Richard H. Jahns Distinguished Lectureship in 1988 to commemorate Jahns and to promote student awareness of engineering geology through a series of lectures offered at various locations around the country throughout the year. Richard H. Jahns (1915-1983) was an engineering geologist who had a diverse and distinguished career in academia, consulting, and government.

Dr. Higgins has served on the Geology and Geological Engineering faculty at the Colorado School of Mines since 1986. He received a B.S. Geology degree from Missouri State University (1969) and M.S. Geology and Ph.D. Geological Engineering degrees (1975 and 1980) from the University of Missouri-Rolla. Prior to coming to CSM, Dr. Higgins served on the civil engineering faculty at Washington State University and as a geological engineer with a consulting engineering firm and with the City of Springfield, Missouri.

Dr. Higgins has taught many engineering geology courses and short courses. His major areas of research are slope stability, rockfall analysis and mitigation, debris flow mechanics, seismic hazard assessment, geotechnical design in loess, characterization of expansive bedrock, construction materials characterization, and engineering geologic mapping. He has completed over $1.4 million in funded research from government and private industry. He was a contributing author to the Transportation Research Board (TRB) publication “Landslides: Investigation and Mitigation”, coauthored the internationally known Colorado Rockfall Simulation Program (CRSP), authored testing standards for flexible fence rock-fall barriers, and has published numerous technical papers on engineering geology. Presently, he is part of a TRB task force preparing a book on rockfall science. He has given numerous invited presentations and workshops in the U.S. and Europe on many engineering geology topics.

An active member of the Association of Engineering Geologists since 1975, Dr. Higgins has served as chair of the Rocky Mountain Section, chair of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee, and has planned numerous technical symposia at national meetings. He is a member of the TRB Engineering Geology and Rockfall committees. He served five years as the geological engineering representative to the ABET, Inc. Engineering Accreditation Commission, and presently serves on the ABET Board of Directors. He is also active on the SME Education and Curricular Issues committee and serves as a trainer for geological engineering accreditation evaluators.