Engineer’s Greatest Fear

It is one thing for a structure to fail. As an engineer it could mean a loss of livelihood. But an even greater fear is to see that a structure you worked on has injured or killed someone. After concern for people involved in the recent collapse on Autoroute 19 and after interest in the cause, the engineers involved is what went through my mind.

The cause could have nothing to do with your work on the project, but you still feel a level of responsibility for preventing it. Although the Twin towers were brought down by commercial airplanes, Leslie Robertson, an engineer on the project, felt there was something more he could have done. The design of the structure had taken into account an airliner crashing into it using the best tools they had at the time. But he still felt he could have done more so the building could stand up longer to let more people get out.

I have worked with engineers who stayed up nights concerned about the structural safety of their projects. Exceptional engineers who have built complex structures all over the world. Their designs were built to code, double and triple checked, and their experience told them that the size and configuration were correct. You can be 110% confident in your work, but it’s a fear that you’re reminded of when something like this happens.

4 Comments so far

  1. sherry (unregistered) on October 1st, 2006 @ 11:44 pm

    It’s not a position I would want to be in. Thank you for mentioning this. I think I’ve been so angry at Transports Quebec for not taking more time to inspect the reasons as to why concrete was falling from the overpass an hour before its collapse that I hadn’t stopped to think how much of a sinking feeling it would be to see something you built had inadvertently killed people.

  2. mare (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2006 @ 8:23 am

    Every time I drive under overpasses that have nets under them (like the ones near the Champlain Bridge) to catch the falling, crumbling concrete, I wait for disaster to happen. But there’s no money to really fix the abismal roads and overpasses, so patching is all they do. Until it falls down. Then there will be investigations, a few heads will roll, and then we can wait until the next disaster.

  3. Laiya (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2006 @ 9:52 am

    They say that the most likely cause in this case was rust that formed on the cables inside the cement as a result of all the salting required during the Winter. However, when a chunk of the du Souvenir overpass fell off, the coroner’s inquest presented a scathing report of engineering errors throughout construction of that particular viaduct. However, after this investigation is through, I get the feeling that all the engineers’ recommendations in the world won’t stop something like this happening again unless there’s money to be put into repairs. When something like this happens, you think about all the little ways or big ways in which tax money can be squandered, letting priorities fall to the wayside.

  4. Justin (unregistered) on October 2nd, 2006 @ 2:36 pm

    Hey, what about the guy from Transport Quebec who was there 40 or so minutes previously and did not close the overpass.. He’s gotta be feeling a tad guilty now..

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