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From Building Design to Prime Time: Forensic Engineering
(Released July 2008)

 
  by Marianne Stanczak  

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Was it Colonel Mustard in the ballroom with the candle stick? Faulty wiring caused by an error in the manufacturing process? Or weak structural joints combined with subzero temperatures?

These may seem like strikingly different situations, but all have one thing in common - forensic engineering. Simply put, forensic engineering is the study of the "how" and "why" - and sometimes "who" - of an event. When people think of the word forensic, images of death, crime scenes and autopsies may come to mind. These images explain forensic engineering regarding other fields of study; it becomes the "death" of an airplane, the scene of an automobile accident and the disassembly of a machine.

The National Academy of Forensic Engineers [www.nafe.org] defines forensic engineering as "the application of the art and science of engineering in matters which are in, or may possibly be related to the jurisprudence system, inclusive and alternative dispute resolution."

The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Forensic Engineering Technical Group adds that forensic engineering is an

objective investigation of conditions related to material, equipment or construction failures and accidents, including those involving human factors or catastrophic events, the technical evaluation of those conditions and the application of engineering principles to determine the cause of such failures and accidents. [www.asceforensics.org]
Unfortunately, for most forensic engineering to be utilized, an accident, disaster or other failure must occur. In turn, failure analysis or an accident investigation, two basic applications of forensic engineering, may be performed.

Reasons for failure are numerous (Voort); they can range from design flaws, material defect, or human error, to normal wear-and-tear. Regardless of the type of failure, an analysis or examination must be performed to prevent the failure from reoccurring. In the case of a criminal investigation, such as a homicide, the objective is to find the culprit, thereby preventing another murder.

The list of tools used in forensic engineering is far too extensive to mention all here; however, some basic, common and/or media-centric tools, techniques and events will be discussed.

Go To Basic Tools and Common Applications

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