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Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

  • 1.  Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-01-2021 01:53 PM

    Recognizing we want to be careful in the forum about speculating on the cause of the Surfside condo collapse aligned with the ASCE statement that came out earlier this week,  a number of general questions have been circulating in my head that triggered by the facts that have come to light. As engineers how we can we  better communicate the severity of problems balancing being alarmist (and possibly putting future credibility and opportunities at risk) with need to properly inform? This is compounded by oft having to communicate to clients or others that are non-engineers and do understand meaning or subtleties.  For policy and regulation makers I think there's a question of how to compel action. The Surfside condo collapse has highlighted the challenge dealing with diffuse ownership. The final question is one of engineering competency within government entities. Finally, can this tragedy be used a wake up call to catalyze support for addressing this countries failing infrastructure – and systems that enable?

    Mitch Winkler P.E., M.ASCE
    Houston, TX

  • 2.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-05-2021 10:28 AM

    Dear Mitch, you are right! There is the need to know the truth, and everyone's asking what happened in that collapse. We have to be cautious in what we have to say about it until the official reports are delivered. Some people challenge us to know if we, as engineers, know to solve the puzzle. As you said, delivering the wrong message (especially in the media) could unnecessarily transfer some alarm.

    What is important is not to let pass this event like another more and always protect people's lives (preparing them, enhancing our design standards, monitoring structures, etc.).

    Andres Guzman Ing., M.ASCE
    Associate Professor

  • 3.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-05-2021 11:04 AM
    To all my fellow engineer friends. Professionals should always maintain professional conduct at all times. Understanding the FACTS should always be at the forefront before rendering opinions in private or public. I have read so many articles and opinions that the failures of bridges and now condominiums are at risk, way before the in-depth forensics are properly completed. I call this all speculation and speculation should not be in our vocabulary. Let us do our job by finding the facts, performing the analysis, and issuing our findings when the timeline is appropriate. Our credibility is on the line.

    Vito Rotondi P.E., M.ASCE
    Westmont IL

  • 4.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-05-2021 12:52 PM
    Very well put! One issue I continuously need to address is clarifying the severity of issues to my clients who are mostly in other industries outside engineering and construction (as you say "diffuse ownership"). Having to take into consideration their backgrounds and approach to situations I need to understand their ability to understand concepts and it is my responsibility to make it intelligible to them (not always possible with all individuals).

    Mark Licalzi P.E., M.ASCE
    Luke Licalzi , P.E., P.C.
    New York City NY

  • 5.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-06-2021 08:19 AM
    As Vito so "Delicately" reminds us, responsible professional engineers are to wait
    until the facts, determined by professionals, have been submitted, reviewed, and approved.

    William M. Hayden Jr., Ph.D., P.E., CMQ/OE, F.ASCE
    Buffalo, N.Y.

    "It is never too late to be what you might have been." -- George Eliot 1819 - 1880

  • 6.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-11-2021 03:53 PM
    Vito is right to point out that "the risks in our industry [profession] are great and any miscommunications can lead to multiple paths for disaster. ... recommendations must have credibility. they must be explained in detail."

    We share with pure scientists the challenge of how to explain "risk" or probability.
    Clear explanation of facts, not just after failures, is critical.  The risks at Surfside included salty, seaside air and corrosion, sea level rise and flooding. These last factors raise the risk of foundation, bridge and road support failures in virtually all of Florida, and many other areas, because they no longer exist in geo-conditions believed to be stable a mere 10-15 years ago. Possible overloading, from inhabitants and wind pressures, unanticipated ambient heat and cold, are other possible risk factors today.

    Contracts do define our design scopes and how engineers are "responsibly in charge", but that is not good enough today. Our cultural climate has developed so much mistrust, fingerpointing and outright hatred in the last 40 years, that re-establishing our "trusted" voice will be a continuing challenge.

    When we design for a particular life span, it must be clear to EVERYONE, owners, customers, the public, what that timeline is (maybe we should even use expiration dates, like on food packages - or codes could require end-of-life funds to be escrowed, as is currently required for landfills, but not much else).  Our designs should include consideration of how the projects will be implemented, operated, and maintained. We should probably even provide estimates of the resources necessary for continuing good performance. Perfect, comprehensive "inspections" are a pipe-dream, but we can clearly inform our clients and project users what visible signs could be indicative of pending failure, the role that building inspectors generally take on right now.

    If we do not plan/design for sustainable projects now, w