About Foresenic Structural Engineering

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  • We like to assume that the buildings we occupy are safe, but structural failure does happen, sometimes deliberately. The field of forensic structural engineering investigates and determines the causes of such failures to help learn why these structures collapsed. These professionals were sent to New York to study one deliberate failure, the Word Trade Towers, and have also investigated high-profile bridge collapses including the I-35 West bridge in Minneapolis. Regardless of the structure failure, forensic structural engineers are there to uncover clues, make reports and offer advice to prevent future failures.

    Graduate Level Program

    Forensic engineering is typically a graduate level program that builds on the engineer’s previous course work. It is a highly specialized field with strong international interest. As countries have rapidly developed, the challenges of making safe structures is enormous. Unwise building procedures, uneven building regulations and more frequent collapses has raised interest in forensic structural engineering worldwide. 

    To pursue such a program, graduate candidates must have completed a bachelor degree in engineering. They must also have gained much first-hand experience working as an engineer, including analyzing, designing, constructing, testing, inspecting, assessing and troubleshooting various projects. Moreover, they must also possess team skills, strong work ethic, excellent problem solving skills, legal knowledge, and intellectual capacity. In short, forensic structural engineer candidates would be among the very best people in the field of engineering.

    Field Understanding

    Pursuing a forensic structural engineering path equips students with the knowledge to investigate and understand these failures, why they happen, the legal ramifications, and the methodology commonly used in this field. 

    Students explore past failures to understand why they happen, what changes in building codes were made, what best practices and standards should be used, and how to avoid future catastrophes. Students learn how to avoid failures and what the consequences of failures are apt to be.

    Course Work

    Graduate students can expect to take courses in structural assessment and failure, construction industry law, and large scale design. Other courses include earthquake and wind engineering, construction system design, foundation engineering, soil mechanics, advance design and geotechnical engineering. 

    Students may also take courses from other departments including environmental engineer, mechanical engineering and earth engineering. Hands-on site work study may also be part of the curriculum. Professionals within and without engineering may offers lectures and seminars to assist students.

    Work Opportunities

    Although a specialized field, graduates of forensic structural engineering will find demand for their work. Candidates should expect to travel extensively with international travel likely for some employees. 

    Your duties may be varied, but may include hands on field investigations, managing and tracking project assignments, structural analysis and evaluation, filing reports, and making recommendations. Candidates generally must have several years of engineering experience, possess working knowledge of building codes, have passed an engineering examination, and may be required to maintain membership in the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

    As of 2012, the average salary for civil engineers was $79,340 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages ranged from $51,300 for those in the 10th percentile to $122,000 for engineers in the 90th percentile. Given the speciality and experience of forensic structural engineers, their salaries should come in toward the higher end of the pay spectrum.

    Author Information
    EFI Global is an ENR Top 500 Design firm based in Houston, Texas. Mark Garcia is an independent writer specializing in forensic structural engineering.

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