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Forensic Engineers Gather for Washington, D.C., Congress

February 2010 Volume 35, Number 2

Short Takes

More than 200 engineers from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., in November for the Fifth Congress on Forensic Engineering. Sponsored by ASCE’s Technical Council on Forensic Engineering, the event featured 82 peer-reviewed papers as well as speakers that included Joshua B. Kardon, Ph.D., s.e., the principal of the structural engineering firm Joshua B. Kardon + Company, of Berkeley, California; J. Arn Womble, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, the founder and president of WindForce Associates, Inc., of Lubbock, Texas; and Henry Petroski, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering at Duke University.

Michael J. Drerup, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior managing engineer with Exponent, of Bowie, Maryland, and the congress’s chair, welcomed attendees on November 12 and introduced Kardon and Womble as plenary speakers. Kardon’s presentation, “Engineering Ethics and Structural Calculations,” discussed the relationship between an engineer’s ethical responsibility and the modeling and mathematical computations that he or she develops. He noted that an engineer’s drawings and calculations are the manifestations of his or her engineering judgments, decisions, and practices. As a result, those drawings and calculations can indicate whether or not the engineer has adhered to the guidelines to practice for canon 1 in ASCE’s Code of Ethics.

Womble discussed the history of modern wind science and engineering and debunked some of the common myths associated with wind damage. For example, he recounted how in the early 20th century many believed that such high winds as those generated by tornadoes could cause houses to explode. More recent research, he noted, has shown that notion to be false. He also explained the differences between wind damage and surge damage from a hurricane.

Petroski’s keynote address was delivered at the National Building Museum and was presented as part of the museum’s lecture series. Entitled “Success and Failure in Engineering Design,” the address explored the relationship between success and failure in the context of the history of suspension bridges. Petroski preceded his discussion by saying, “The way that we achieve success is by anticipating failure.” If, he hypothesized, the Titanic had not sunk, then its flaws would have been repeated in other ships that used it as a successful model. This ultimately would have led to the loss of a similar ship. As he put it, “I’m not advocating here that we hope things fail, but I want to state that there is a lot of information that can be gained from failure.” (Read an excerpt of Petroski’s new book, The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems, which is being published this month by Alfred A. Knopf, in the February issue of Civil Engineering.)

At an awards luncheon held on Friday, November 13, David Peraza, P.E., M.ASCE, a principal engineer of Exponent and the chair of the Technical Council on Forensic Engineering’s Executive Committee, presented the council’s Forensic Engineering Award to Petroski; to Howard F. Green-span, P.E., F.ASCE, the president of Howard F. Greenspan Associates, of Upper Montclair, New Jersey; and, posthumously, to Lewis L. Zickel, P.E., M.ASCE, whose wife accepted it on his behalf. Zickel was a consulting engineer based in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The Forensic Engineering Award recognizes a long and distinguished record of professional achievement and service in investigating and preventing engineering failures. Rachel Chicchi, A.M.ASCE, a structural engineer with Cannon Design, of Grand Island, New York, was named the winner of the Outstanding Student Paper Award, and Leonard Morse-Fortier, P.E., M.ASCE, a staff consultant for Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Inc., of Boston, and the council’s immediate past chair, received an award for his work on the Executive Committee.