Damage Assessments in Forensic Engineering: How Reports are Done

22 October 2019

Odds are, when a consulting engineer inspects an untenable structure, a damage assessment report is underway. A consultancy firm has dispatched the forensic expert, and he or she is taking notes on a clipboard while carrying out a legally governed loss adjustment appraisal. For those who’d like to know what goes into one of these forensic reports, keep right on reading; we’re going to take a peek over this consulting professional’s shoulder.

Outlining Forensic Reports for Damage Assessment Purposes

Regardless of the type of damage, the consultant arrives with no preconceptions to prejudice his work. It could be that a hurricane has caused severe structural damage, or maybe there was a mistake made during the initial design phase. Act of God or human error, it’s not the forensic expert’s place to judge. Therein lies the problem, though. The unbiased data not only has to be collected dispassionately, but it also has to be compiled in a straightforward manner. Anyone, engineer and layman alike, must be able to interpret the main points of a forensic report. Damage assessment statements must be layperson friendly.

Getting Into The Technical Details Fair enough, forensic reports should be easy to read, but that doesn’t mean they’re ever short of technical information, of statistics and hard numbers. Methodologically described, systematically laid out, every incident-relevant specific is recorded on the report. That means, for the hurricane, wind direction and strength is documented. Time of the storm, strength of sustained gale forces, direction and elevation, all of these statistics are recorded, probably along with a number of appended photographs. If it’s human error, the same degree of exhaustively conducted investigative work is performed. Only, this time around, it’s the history of the company involved, the credentials gained by their employees, and the inclusion of site design plans that get appended to the report. For a seismic event, seismograph readings and key failure points are stressed and backed up by evidence-based report findings, too.

Litigation work is an alien concept for most contractors. Pulled up to provide evidence during a costly loss assessment case, that seasoned worksite pro will provide an opinion, but that’s not the same as forensic evidence. On a forensic report, pure and unbiased engineering principles are applied when establishing a cause of structural damage. The source of the damage is identified and documented. Following on from this important info, a sequence of events is decided, too. For instance, with a flood damage report, storm data is crucial. Alternatively, what if this was a pipe leak? With the storm, the cause and effect sequence is clear, although information on how the water penetrated the structure must be determined. With a broken pipe, though, there’s the reason why this man-made asset failed to determine and substantiate.

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