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Name: Daniella
Status: Student
Grade: 6-8
Location: AZ
Country: United States
Date: November 2008

If you were director of a team to investigate why a bridge collapsed, what information would you need to gather from witnesses, engineers, and state officials? Who else should be interviewed?

Hi Daniella,

Assuming what was desired was to manage a detailed investigation into the engineering reasons why the bridge collapsed, I guess you could rule out any state or government officials, since it is unlikely they could contribute any useful engineering knowledge.

Witnesses might help to give observations on what lead up to the collapse, but their stories on what happened during the collapse would be of little interest since the bridge had already failed at that point. Far more important would be to recruit the engineers who designed the bridge, and the full design documentation. Then I expect the next step would be to assemble a group of expert independent engineers to go over the evidence in great detail to try to understand the structural engineering reasons for the collapse. That would be my guess, at least.


Bob Wilson

Hi Daniella,

In general, witnesses would not be tremendously important. In rare instances, it may help and that is why you would interview them, but the collapse does not have an operational error (like operating an airplane, ship, or train), and the structure has already failed. The only reason to involve state officials is for any records that they may hold on the bridge, including inspections, modifications, surveillance video, repair records, perhaps weather, and the like.

Interviewing inspectors, and coordinating engineering failure reports would be most helpful. Metallurgical analysis is extremely telling. Reviewing plans, modeling, tests, and modifications would be very beneficial. Computer modeling may be a very good tool. Photographic documentation, including post failure and dismantling the wreckage, can prove to be helpful. These kinds of methodical investigations can take many months.

Nathan A. Unterman

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