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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, we have failed to do our job. Even as we try to meet our clients' requirements, we must evaluate whether the projects are the right ones in the right place.  Our legacy must be work that will withstand the test of time, to build trust in the engineers' voice once more.

    Sarah Simon P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE
    Founding Partner
    Ipswich MA

  • 7.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-06-2021 08:17 AM
    "Finally, can this tragedy be used a wake up call to catalyze support for addressing this countries failing infrastructure – and systems that enable?"
    Mitch thanks for the question, and yes a system similar to the national bridge safety inspection would be needed. The National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) Title 23 Code of Federal Regulations 650 Subpart C defines the NBIS regulations, and establishes requirements for inspection procedures, frequency of inspections, qualifications of personnel, inspection reports, and preparation and maintenance of a state bridge inventory.  The need is there but the political stomach is weak, you can make a difference by asking your state and national senators and representatives to do the right thing...even if it means losing donations from the large real estate magnates.  Do you support Ted Cruz? if so ask him to take a stand to support a national standard for buildings over 3 stories that provide shelter for humans.

    Barry Anderson P.E.
    Granite Falls MN

  • 8.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-07-2021 06:14 PM
    Too soon to talk about adding a significant national inspection requirement. Exactly how common is collapse of an occupied building in the US? It seems possible that all the necessary information to comprehend the danger was already in hand by those in responsible positions (inspectors, government, owners), but not acted upon; we just don't know yet. Perhaps it was the communication issues discussed above.
    For those of us in New York City, there are already requirements for full façade inspections, and full gas system inspections every 5 years. There are also numerous other avenues for collecting and reporting problems at buildings including a simple 311 anonymous call. While clearly valuable and most would say necessary, these inspection requirements are a significant burden for property owners and make affordable housing a serious challenge.
    Collection of all available information, careful and thorough analysis, and a consensus conclusion must all be completed before consideration of major new requirement.

    James Moore, PE  M.ASCE
    New York, NY

    James Moore P.E., M.ASCE
    Moore Associates LLC
    New York NY

  • 9.  RE: Surfside Condo Collapse Peripheral Questions

    Posted 07-07-2021 09:51 PM
    I agree that there is time to evaluate the cause or causes of the Surfside Condo Collapse before broad laws and regulations are enacted.  However, it seems that many if not all condo homeowner associations do not have the KSA's to make sound decisions on Professional Engineer reports and recommendations.  I would hope that the Engineer's Recommendations would carry the day...however recent history of professional recommendations to vaccinate have shown about a third of our population have not followed advice.  The results could be fatal but misinformation and general mistrust of professionals are cause for concern.

    Barry Anderson P.E.
    Granite Falls MN