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Fundamentals of Forensic Engineering Course Outline

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    Week 1: Introduction to the performance and pathology of the built environment

    Students will be able to identify the role of design, construction, materials, operations & maintenance, extreme events, and deterioration in the performance and pathology of constructed facilities, and be able to provide examples of past failures to illustrate each of these factors.

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Introduce the concept of failure origin and examine three categories of failure origin that can be traced to the original design and construction of a building or structure.
    • Examine three categories of failure origin that can be traced to post-construction or service life considerations.
    • Explain the difference between a root cause, contributing factor, and a triggering event in a failure.

    Topics:

    • Taxonomy of failure – six categories
    • Root causes, contributing factors, and triggering events
    • Introductory case studies in failure, drawn from ASCE Forensic Engineering Division publications

    Week 2: Causes of Failure Part 1: Design, Construction, and Materials

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Define the “standard of care” as it applies to design professionals during design and construction.
    • List three examples of how the standard of care can be defined for projects of variable scale, complexity, and innovation.
    • Summarize typical roles and responsibilities of design professionals, contractors, and special inspectors in the project delivery process.
    • Analyze failure and large scale failure case studies to determine the cause and/or contributing factor that lead to the failure.

    Topics:

    • The standard of care – an introduction
    • Importance and limitations of codes and design standards
    • Evaluating constructability
    • Human factors affecting the quality of the constructed facility
    • Performance of pre-fabricated materials, products, and components

    Week 3: Causes of Failure Part 2: Operations & Maintenance, Extreme Events, Deterioration

    Students will be able identify factors including operations & maintenance, extreme events, and deterioration, that affect the performance of a constructed facility during it’s often long service life, and to discuss how these factors can become more significant than the initial three factors over time.

    Learning Outcomes:

    • List three ways in which a change-in-use, un-intended use, structural or architectural modification can affect the serviceability of building.
    • Explore examples in which the failure of a constructed facility led to a change in governing codes or design standards.
    • Identify three time-dependent factors that can gradually compromise the safety or serviceability of a building.
    • Correlate how earthquakes, wind, storm surges/floods, and fire can affect buildings and structures, to one or more code requirements or design practices that has been developed to mitigate each risk.

    Topics:

    • Changes in use and its impact on performance and durability
    • Operations and maintenance errors and omissions
    • Extreme events

    Week 04: Failure Case Studies

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Summarize key lessons learned from well-known failures cases, many of which are described in ASCE’s Case Studies in Civil Engineering Failures.
    • Illustrate how incremental changes in design practices have resulted in a progression from success to failure.
    • Evaluate the application of the “standard of care” to building design and construction.
    • Define/examine the role and limitations of prescriptive codes.

    Topics:

    • Design errors, omissions and the standard of care
    • Structure type and importance, geographic location, and other factors
    • Non-negligent errors
    • Strengths and limitations of prescriptive code requirements

    Week 5: Field, Lab, Office: Three facets of forensic investigation

    Learning Outcomes:

    • List four methods of rapid evidence preservation immediately after a failure.
    • Prepare a practical, low-tech approach to rapid, inexpensive, provenance data collection.
    • List and describe five criteria that may justify a field or laboratory test program.
    • Demonstrate three ways that office-based analysis can form an essential facet of a forensic investigation.

    Topics:

    • Field/site documentation and assessment
    • Office analysis
    • The role of laboratory testing and specialized field testing

    Week 6: Tools & Techniques of Forensic Engineering

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Identify five “everyday tools” that should be part of a standard investigative tool kit.
    • Illustrate how different techniques and technologies can be combined to provide diagnostically useful information.
    • Explore three internet resources that can provide valuable information in a forensic investigation.
    • Establish five elements of a proper evidence collection and chain-of-custody protocol for laboratory specimens.
    • Define the difference between evidence and exemplars, and list three considerations for each in a laboratory program.

    Topics:

    • The forensic engineering “toolkit”
    • Specialty tools and techniques
    • Standards and resources for established techniques
    • Combining techniques

    Week 7: Defining and refining the scope of an investigation

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Apply the Scientific Method to forensic investigations.
    • Define the scope and cost considerations for a forensic investigation based on client type, and the nature and magnitude of the failure.
    • Develop a list of potentially suitable investigative tools and techniques, based on the formulation of a failure hypotheses.
    • Refine a preliminary forensic investigation design based on time and budget constraints.
    • Assess how modifications to the forensic investigation design and protocol might affect confidence and completeness of findings while retaining sufficient diagnostic value.

    Topics:

    • Developing failure hypotheses
    • Application of the scientific method
    • Developing a scientifically sound approach to vetting/testing hypotheses
    • Tailoring an investigation to investigation objectives

    Week 8: Investigation Case Studies

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Illustrate the role of field, laboratory, and office based investigation and analysis using case studies from the investigator’s personal experience.
    • Discuss how to tailor an investigation to a wide range of budgetary and technical constraints while maintaining sufficient scientific rigor.
    • Discover the root cause or contributing factors in structural failures.
    • Evaluate design errors pertaining to building structure, enclosure and construction processes/oversight.
    • Acquire a better understanding of the effect of improperly understood material properties, defective materials, deterioration, and operations and maintenance procedures on structural failures.

    Topics:

    • Steel, concrete, wood and masonry structure case studies
    • Structural failure root cause and or contributing factors
    • Design error and building material evaluation

    Week 9: Introduction to data analysis and synthesis

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Differentiate between qualitative and quantitative data, and list two strategies to normalize a blend of data types.
    • Define three general approaches for vetting data, and how to establish levels of confidence in available data.
    • Describe the process of deductive reasoning, including initial study, hypothesis formation, and hypothesis testing.

    Topics:

    • Evaluating quantitative and qualitative data gathered during an investigation
    • Assessing levels of confidence/uncertainty
    • Hypothesis testing in forensic investigation

    Week 10: Work Product

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Identify the five key components of investigative reports and discuss specific ways in which the scope and format of a report may vary based on the nature of the investigation.
    • Apply the scope and findings of an investigation to construction documents for recommended repairs.
    • Employ three strategies for reviewing and understanding the work product prepared by others.
    • Demonstrate familiarity with at least three approaches to gathering and reviewing historical data pertinent to current reporting.
    • Evaluate three ways of incorporating visual communication devices to enhance the clarity of investigative work product.

    Topics:

    • Types of work product
    • Components of a report, and common sequences of presentation
    • Technical writing tips for investigative reports
    • Visual communication

    Week 11: Expert witness

    Learning Outcomes:

    • List the seven canons of ASCE’s Code of Ethics, and discuss how they apply to professional ethical responsibilities.
    • Outline how each canon pertains to the practice of forensic engineering.
    • Examine the three roles and responsibilities of the expert witness in the legal process.
    • Discuss three aspects of the legal process in which the expert witness typically has no role.

    Topics:

    • Role and responsibilities of an expert witness as a scientist, peer, and educator
    • Limits of an expert’s role
    • Types of written and oral testimony

    Week 12: Capstone

    Concepts from weeks 1 through 11 will be reinforced through three types of case studies:

    • Revisiting case studies from earlier weeks in the context of newly introduced concepts
    • Newly introduced case studies to demonstrate application of concepts introduced throughout the course

    Learning Outcomes:

    • Discuss two practices to reduce failures as it applies to failure origin.
    • Apply lessons learned from failures to improve practices in the design, construction, and maintenance of buildings and structures.
    • Utilize case studies to summarize course concepts regarding initial assessment, investigation design and execution, and preparation/presentation of work product.

    Topics:

    • Reduction of failures
    • Summarize lessons learned from failures
    • Structural deterioration and overload
    • Design/Construction Process Errors

    Registration opens soon!

    If you are not currently logged into ASCE, you will be asked to login or create an ASCE account.

    This course outline is subject to change

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