How do you carry out a forensic investigation during a pandemic?

Engineering experience plus data from a visual site assessment carries the day during a pandemic. More often than not engineers know the probable cause of a problem soon after they’re told about the problem.

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I blogged in the past about the value of a simple visual site assessment. Simply going to the site of a failure or accident and visually examining what’s exposed at the surface. In a sense, walkin’ around and kickin’ the tires. (Ref. 1)

Never mind taking things apart and seeing what’s beneath the surface. No field testing. No laboratory testing. Nothing like that. Just look and see what’s exposed at the surface.

Then I realized it had to be a virtual visual site assessments when COVID-19 struck. Like in, ‘Stay the blazes home!’. I talked about how valuable these types of assessments are too. (Ref. 2)

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Recently I was reminded about the value of simple engineering experience.

A few days ago after blogging about why the multi-story building collapsed in London, Ontario (Ref. 3) I was in touch with an experienced construction engineer in Ottawa, Ted Ruiter. Ted and I are UNB engineering classmates. He was quick to say, “while he hadn’t read my blog yet about the London building collapse”, the probable cause was hurried construction and inadequate support of the concrete floor forms.

Ted’s comment got me thinking about the chat I had earlier still with an experienced design engineer in Halifax, Jamie Yates. Jamie and I are friends. I chat with Jamie at times if a problem seems to have a structural element. We talked about the design of the temporary support of floor forms like those used in the London building. He was also quick to note inadequate support as a cause.

We also chatted about the problems that develop when construction is rushed.

So, the experience of two well-regarded engineers kicked in and quickly pointed the finger at inadequate support – sans virtual visual site assessments.

Of course, that’s not enough – just knowing based on experience – a client wants analysis and reasoning to a conclusion based on the evidence in the spirit of the scientific method. An experienced forensic engineer did that and I concluded inadequate support too.

Three experienced engineers and the same conclusion about inadequate support as the probable cause of the building collapse.

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I’m not surprised at the value of plain old engineering experience – the theme of this blog.

I blogged a while ago about the failures that are everywhere in the built environment from the simple to the complex. (Ref. 4) Also the many 100s of ways different structures can fail. For example, 209 for a building alone. (Ref. 5) An experienced engineer knows about many of these and will pick out the probable cause from the many.

Add a visual site assessment to engineering experience and you’ve got a powerful forensic investigative tool.

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You can get close to settling your insurance claim or assessing the merit of a case now – from your home office. Maybe even completely settling the claim or reliably assessing merit. You don’t need to wait for the second COVID-19 wave to pass.

References

  1. COVID-19 and an initial forensic task a.k.a. a visual site assessment, sans social distancing. Posted June 1, 2020
  2. What can you get from a virtual site assessment about the cause of a leaning retaining wall? Posted November 13, 2020
  3. Why did the four story building collapse during construction in London, Ontario? Posted December 31, 2020
  4. You could be excused for thinking that everything is falling down. Posted July 23, 2020
  5. What’s in “…the built environment” and how many ways can it fail? Posted July 8, 2020

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(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng., Januray 8, 2021 consulting professional engineer, forensic engineer, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada ejorden@eastlink.ca)

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