COVID-19 and forensic engineering investigation

It struck me one morning while walking my dogs that forensic engineering investigation is not constrained by COVID-19.  Experts often work alone as principal investigators conferring with other specialists as needed.  Many of the most experienced experts are sole practitioners like others in the professions.  We already “work from home” in a sense and have for years.

Expert sole practitioner “working from home”, alone

We take briefings “from home”, get documents by courier and study, visually inspect a site and “kick the tires”, research the literature, photograph and video a failure or accident site from a drone, measure the site, etc. (Ref. 1)  All done by the expert, alone.

This amount of forensic investigation is often enough for an expert to determine cause – not always, but often.  Even to go through several iterations of cause (hypothesis modification in the scientific method) like I did recently for a mini-flood. (Ref. 2)  An expert does go on site at the first opportunity though.  It’s a no no, not to.

Expert sole practitioner “working on site”, with other specialists

For sure, if it’s a catastrophic failure or accident when other specialists must be called in then a forensic investigation might need to wait – at least to finalize after the expert’s initial tasks noted above are done.  Possibly a wait of only a few short months, however, in light of the opening-up-lock-down talk of late.


As regards waiting, I’m thinking about the staging of a motor vehicle accident in a road safety assessment case I did recently.  Too many people involved to finalize that in a hurry if it had occurred during COVID-19.

Also the John Morris Rankin accident re-enactment I did a few years ago.  Also the nail-gun accident re-enactment I did not long ago.  And a bridge collapse the cause of which hung on a topographic survey of the site and the height of the flood waters at the time of the collapse.  And a building foundation failure and remediation.

There were just too many people involved up close and personal during forensic investigations like these.

Back to expert sole practitioner “working from home”, alone

But the cause of large cracks in the exterior wall of a recently constructed multi-story building?  This could be stated with great certainty by an expert based on a telephone briefing on wall construction and crack size and configuration.  COVID-19 be damned; the expert would work from home and determine cause.  I did not get retained on this one because of a hiccup in the process but it would have been a motherhood type of assessment from my “work from home” office.


  1. A Bundle of Blogs: Aerial video of insurance and forensic sites taken with cameras mounted on drones.  Posted October 31, 2019
  2. The scientific method in action determining the cause of a mini-flood.  Posted April 30, 2020


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