Engineer as Expert – 2017

Engineer as Expert - 2017

Definition of an Expert Witness

According to the definition of an expert witness is as follows:

“An expert witness is a witness who has knowledge beyond that of the ordinary lay person enabling him/her to give testimony regarding an issue that requires expertise to understand.” USLEGAL goes on to explain, “Experts are allowed to give opinion testimony which a non-expert witness may be prohibited from testifying to. In court, the party offering the expert must lay a foundation for the expert’s testimony. Laying the foundation involves testifying about the expert’s credentials and experience that qualifies him/her as an expert. Sometimes the opposing party will stipulate (agree to) to the expert’s qualifications in the interests of judicial economy.”

Practitioner Seminar

Mike Drerup, P.E., a consulting building performance engineer delivered a great practitioner lecture on the topic “Engineer as an Expert” to students in the AE 537 Building Failures class in architectural engineering at Penn State.  In addition to covering terminology such as “standard of care”, depositions, chain of custody on evidence, etc., Mr. Drerup discussed the role of the role and limitations of the expert in a number of categories.  He related the discussion to practice and the industry by looking at three main thrusts which included case study examples:

  • Structure
  • Enclosure
  • Materials

The use of the case study examples illustrated the process and to demonstrated the scope of effort and scientific study required for many forensic investigations.

ASCE TCFE Guidelines

In terms of guidelines related to the practice of forensic engineering for buildings and infrastructure, the topic is well covered in the publication Guidelines for Forensic Engineering Practice (Guidelines) by the Forensic Engineering Practice Committee (FEPC), Forensic Engineering Division of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The Guidelines are organized into five general topics of forensic engineering.

  1. Qualifications: addressing commonly accepted education and requirements for forensic engineers.
  2. Investigations: illustrating the typical aspects of physically carrying out a forensic investigation.
  3. Ethics: discussing guidelines for the ethical behaviors of the forensic engineers.
  4. Legal: providing a brief overview of the court system as it applied to the construction industry.
  5. Business: relating the non-technical management side of forensic engineering practices and the marketing of forensic engineering services within an acceptable ethical scheme is encouraged.

An excellent follow up article on this topic authored by Robert T. Ratay was published in Structures magazine and can be downloaded using the links below:

The Forensic Expert Consultant / Witness and the companion article Professional Practice of Forensic Structural Engineering both of which were published in Structure Magazine.

Michael J. Drerup, P.E. Building Performance Consultant
Mr. Drerup is a professional engineer with 20 years of structural engineering and
building technology experience, with an emphasis on the performance, maintenance,
repair, and retrofit of existing buildings and structures. He has planned and directed
field and laboratory studies to evaluate the performance and durability of a variety of
building systems, components, and materials, including structural systems, facades,
and flooring. Mr. Drerup works closely with specialists in other disciplines to assemble
and manage teams tailored for larger and more complex assignments. He has also
investigated numerous damage claims resulting from a variety of natural and man-made
causes, including earthquakes, weather events, explosions, fire, impact, construction
activities, and defective design or construction. He has served as an expert witness in
numerous cases, and he has testified at deposition, trial, and mediation.
Mr. Drerup has served on the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE’s) Technical
Council on Forensic Engineering for 15 years and recently completed his term as
Council chair. During that time, he has led the development of continuing education
seminars for engineers and architects, chaired ASCE’s Fifth Congress on Forensic
Engineering in Washington, DC, and served on the steering committee for the Sixth
Congress in San Francisco. He has also represented ASCE internationally, including
two sponsored trips to forensic engineering conferences in India, and collaboration
with the Institution of Forensic Engineers in the United Kingdom. He has served as a
reviewer for ASCE’s Journal of Performance of Constructed Facilities for more than
10 years and was guest editor for a special topic issue on non-destructive evaluation of
existing buildings and infrastructure. Mr. Drerup regularly publishes and presents on a
range of topics including technical issues, professional practice, and architectural and
engineering history

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29 Responses to “Engineer as Expert – 2017”

  1. Shangmi X.
    November 28, 2017 at 7:51 am #

    The presentation provided by Mr. Drerup was about engineer as expert. He mentioned that an engineer is a scientist, peer, and educator not a judge, jury or lawyer. The job of forensic engineer is to investigate the failures and act as a expert witness. They can not cross the border of their job scope.
    According to the article “Professional Practice of Forensic Structural Engineering”, forensic engineers need to have at least some familiarity with the relevant legal processes and need to know how to work effectively with attorneys. As an expert in forensic engineering, they need to show their professional investigation and provide technical assistance to the judge and other parties involved.
    The animation showed by Mr. Drerup is a very good example of showing the investigation of failure very clearly to people who is not expert in the field. The forensic engineers have responsibility to explain the cause of the failure clearly to attorneys so they can make the right judgment.

  2. HarryB
    November 27, 2017 at 9:03 pm #

    Clarity of message is just as important. If a jury of non engineers cannot understand what you are saying your message is useless even if it is correct. Mr Derup used the example of an animated but technically accurate video to show the failure cause of a retaining wall. He explained he spent a substantial amount of extra time and money to ensure his message was clear and understandable. He message was very similar to Mr Boyers presentation on MEP forensics. He had made a similar graphic to show the additions of a grain elevator.
    Professional Practice of Forensic Structural Engineering and The Forensic Expert Consultant/Witness outline the need and role of a forensic engineer in and out of court. These articles states that to prove that the designing engineer made a mistake is not sufficient to bring legal action. The court must be able to prove that the design engineer was negligent. This means that engineers should always keep well thought out and neat calculations in order to protect themselves from accusations of negligence.

  3. Dennis B
    November 17, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    Mr. Drerup made an excellent presentation on the fine line that engineers walk when acting as an expert witness during legal arguments. As someone that is pursuing a career in construction with a structural background I believe this could potentially play a huge part in my career. I enjoyed hearing about Mr. Drerup’s experiences throughout his career and how he related them back to his main point.

    I feel as though this part of our career is where we truly need to have expert experience and understanding. I say this because as engineers in a legal dispute we often have to simplify complex phenomenon in a way that it can be understood by others not in the construction industry, but still have all of the important content that caused the failure to occur. It may be a bit of a stretch, but Einstein once said “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. I believe that quote accurately describes the engineer’s role as an expert witness in a case of a failure.

    Overall I really enjoyed hearing from a professional about his experience as an expert witness. As engineers it is important that we continue to have integrity both in design and after a failure. The most important thing that we do as designers is protect, so the idea of designing with life safety in mind is crucial. No one wants to experience a failure but it can be easy to overlook something during the design phase that can lead to someone being hurt. I believe that is the most important part of Mr. Drerup’s presentation although he provided us with a lot of very useful information.

    • Jared P
      November 20, 2017 at 9:12 am #

      I agree that engineers need to expert witnesses when it comes to building failure investigation. In the same way automobile mechanic runs diagnostic tests on cars to understand what fails in a car, engineers need to test to find the probable causes of failure in a building investigation. We have the most capability of understanding failures since we are able to consider all things and have rational means of confirming what we believe is the cause. This is why true engineers are like scientist in the real world.

    • Tyler J
      November 21, 2017 at 8:22 am #


      I believe you are correct in saying that the legal and expert witness part of the industry will heavily impact you as you are involved in construction with a structural engineering background. Over the last several years, I have talked with many in the industry who are in that exact scenario. Many even have their PE or SE but have since transitioned into the construction industry. Having a background in structural engineering causes them to unofficially be the “structural guy” working on site and allows them to then be involved in any and all structure related issues and processes.

      I also really enjoyed Einstein’s quote that you stated above. That is a great way to think of building failures. There always is a reason for a failure. If one cannot be determined, observations and interpretations were not done correctly. The answer is always there, it is just a matter of finding it.

  4. CamilleS
    November 16, 2017 at 2:12 pm #

    I enjoyed hearing Mr. Drerup present a different perspective on the role of a forensic engineer than we have heard about in the course of this class. As an expert witness, Mr. Drerup emphasized that how you come to your findings, and how you present your findings to a non-technical audience, is just as important as your actual conclusion on a building failure. As previously touch on by Mr. Boyer, visuals reports that tell the story of a failure are typically just as important as the technical findings presented in a report. The visual display that Mr. Boyer presented showing the MEP equipment on the ADM Grain Elevator more concisely conveyed the conclusion of their investigation. Mr. Drerup’s video conveying the retaining wall failures quickly and accurately the conclusion of his investigation as well. I have learned that it is important to think about communicating visually, not just in the architectural engineering communication, but seeing how professional engineers use these tools as well.

    In ‘The Forensic Expert Consultant / Witness’ the article touches on using multiple testing techniques and approaches to avoid bias in forensic findings. As emphasized by Mr. Drerup as well, it is important to understand how to properly select and use the many different types of tests that to validate or compare failure hypothesis. I wonder, at what point is enough? Is this a point in the investigation study that is determined by us as engineers? Or is this a level of investigation that is evaluated by our peers as a standard of care that applies not just to the design of structures, but to the investigation of their failure as well. At the end of the day, the goal of design engineers and forensic engineers should be the same, for life safety of the occupants of buildings.

    • Geoffrey T.
      November 26, 2017 at 11:09 am #

      Hi Camille,

      You brought up a good point. I think it is very hard to determine how much information is enough information. I know that I might be wrong on this one, but, I believe that in forensic engineering, there is no such thing as too much information. As an expert, our job is to find facts, no matter whether it is detrimental or beneficial for our case. This is because we, as a future engineer, is bounded by the code of ethics. If we only focus on the things that are beneficial on our case, it will be a bias report and hence.

      Unfortunately, this is still a problem in today’s professional world. The expert that is hired by the defense tends to focus only on the material that is beneficial to their case because they think that since his/her client is the one that pays the fees, they need to find something that is beneficial to their client. As Mr. Drerup said, experts are scientists and educators, we are not lawyers or juries. So, our job is to find facts and leave the argument to the lawyers.

      • Camille S
        November 27, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

        Geoffrey, I agree with your assertion that the investigation of a forensic engineer should not be limited by the interest of the client, especially as an expert witness. As we have seen throughout the semester, it is not just one event or condition that causes a failure, it is many things that contribute to the failure. As a professional engineer, all conditions should be investigation for their role in a failure, not just those that benefit the client. This many be a better measure of completeness of an investigation. And at the end of the day, I would also agree with your first point. There can never be too much information that can be gathered to help come to a conclusion on a failure.

  5. WangjaeY
    November 16, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    It was an interesting lecture by Mr. Drerup. It was a quite different view of how forensic engineering is. Based on his experiences in forensic engineering, his lecture taught me that how forensic engineer plays a role in cases. He was focused on that engineer is a scientist, peer and educator, not the judge whom can establish the final decision. Like other guest speakers, he emphasized the importance of water damage in the structure: finding the load path and water path.

    his case studies provided me great lessons as well. Among his case studies, I was interested in the precast retaining wall failures. I was involved in designing the precast retaining wall to replace the failure from the existing retaining wall. The project had the constraint of dealing with existing structures next to the site. It reminds me to look at my design again to make sure the structure is adequate for being exposed the the weather, especially the water.

  6. Jared P
    November 16, 2017 at 11:20 am #

    On Tuesday our speaker Michael J. Drerup gave his presentation on how engineers are experts in building performance studies. The role of an expert engineer as Mr. Drerup describes, is to: conduct an analytical investigation as a scientist, understand the different practicing parties as a peer, and simplify the complexity of the incident as an educator. Engineers are often relied on in court for their forensic expertise. They write their report on what occurred in a building failure pertaining to: what facts are true about the incident, what was brought to light during investigation, and what can be deducted into an opinion to be the root case of failure. The expert engineer does not: interpret the law as a judge, make final decisions on who is responsible as a jury, or argue the facts as a lawyer. The engineer gives his expert points that outline his report to make the legal parties understand the details of the incident that occurs.

  7. Tyler J
    November 16, 2017 at 8:13 am #

    Mr. Drerup provided an informative and engaging presentation on forensic engineering. Specifically, he talked about the legal process of being an expert engineer. I found his explanation regarding advocacy and impartiality particularly interesting. The job of the lawyer is to advocate for their client regardless of their personal opinions. This often places an expert engineer in a difficult situation. Should the engineer be an advocate or impartial expert? The article above titled, “The Forensic Expert Consultant/Witness” answers this question by stating that an expert should be allowed to advocate, but only for their findings regarding a situation. An expert engineer should not advocate for their client. This idea was echoed by Mr. Drerup. The article further suggests that if the judicial system would like a completely impartial expert, they themselves should pay for the expert engineer.

    Additionally, Mr. Dreup provided valuable insight into the primary reason for building codes and proved the need to follow the intent of the code, not the letter of the code. One example used was the Grenfell Tower in London. One of the two reasons for building codes is to prevent fire from damaging buildings and hurting people. In the case of the Grenfall tower, flammable panels were used. Though these panels were legal, at the point they were placed on the building, the intent of the building’s fire codes were compromised. I believe this speaks to the idea that as engineers, we should not be so focused on code requirements that we miss the reasoning for code all together.

    • David K
      November 27, 2017 at 6:54 pm #

      I believe that the main reason for this “misunderstanding” of building codes comes from the desire to build quickly and cheaply. As for the example of the Grenfell Tower in London, one could assume that the flammable facade material was probably one of the cheapest options to achieve the physical appearance that the architect was looking for. It was most likely known that this material was not the best available however given that the material was not illegal to use and that it was probably cheaper the architect/contractor made the decision to use that product. Though the primary reason for building codes is to provide life safety, it is often compromised due to the cost of processes and materials.

  8. Perry H.
    November 16, 2017 at 12:29 am #

    One thing I found particularly interesting and extremely relevant to the AE curriculum was the retaining wall animation that emphasized visual communication. I found the animation to be extremely successful in taking a great deal of information and simplifying it into something that was very easy to consume and understand. I thought the best part of the animation was the use of real pictures side by side with the computer generated images to confirm that the cracks shown were not just made up but accurately depicting a real life condition. The concept of visual communication is very important because it is one of the easiest ways for a non-technical person to understand a more complex idea and in a court of law this could be crucial to winning a case.
    Another part of Mr. Drerup’s presentation that stood out to me was when he asked the class, as an expert witness are you allowed to advocate for your client? This is a very thought provoking question because on one side as an expert witness you are required to impartially speak on the truth and on the other side you have been hired by a party to help them win a dispute. “The Forensic Expert Consultant/Witness” by Dr. Ratay talks about this idea a little bit more and states that yes, one’s honesty and integrity can be maintained while also putting emphasis on the factors that are in favor of the client. I agree with this evaluation of the question because as an expert you are hired to provide a perspective based on facts that will help the client. So as long as your expert opinion is just that, based on facts, then I see no problem advocating for your client.

    • HarryB
      November 27, 2017 at 9:20 pm #


      I agree with you that the question of weather you should advocate for your client is a tricky one. I think you have come to a reasonable conclusion that as long as an engineer’s testimony is fact based there is no problem with advocating. I would question you and ask what if the facts lead an expert witness to disagree with their employers claim?

      • Perry H.
        December 5, 2017 at 12:25 am #


        This is another great question that shows how hard it can be to be an expert witness. The most ethical answer to this question would be to inform your client of your findings and that you can no longer work for them while maintaining your honesty and integrity. I wonder if most contracts between an expert and their client address this possibility and how the expert would be compensated if his findings did not agree with the client’s case?

    • Shangmi X.
      November 28, 2017 at 8:03 am #

      I am agree with you that animation of showing a investigation of failure is very successful in communication. Pictures speaks thousand of words and animation is even greater. Since communication between forensic engineers and attorneys are very important, visual communication is one of the best ways. And putting real pictures or making the animation realistic is also very important to make people understand and convinced about the failure.

  9. Keunhyoung Park
    November 16, 2017 at 12:24 am #

    The lecture delivered by Mr. Drerup inspire the responsibility as a structural engineer since all we may has a role of an experts.
    And, I noticed that his preparation for this presentation is updated with so many cases and philosophies from prior slide what I found at Canvas. I want to thank his passion for this lecture.

    As mentioned at the lecture, I agree with that structural engineer who is managing a failure case as a forensic engineer should stay in scientist’s stance. This is because there are few people who can point out the important factor from the failed structures without the knowledge in forensic and structural engineering principles. By exclusion of personal prejudice, a structural forensic engineer may provide valuable information for judges.

    In addition, he mentioned an important attitude for an expert who are confronting someone who are not familiar with the field. As many cases, visualized information such as a video, a diagram, or a scheme are very powerful and effective way to explain to an amateur for a field.

    Lastly, I felt that an expert maybe prepared to take a role as an teacher as Mr. Drerup said. In other words, a skilled and experienced expert should feel a responsibility in training a new expert, because they are essential part in rearing of junior engineer. Delivering priceless experiences and knowledge from senior is almost the only way to complete the fostering of a new expert. Even not a purpose of raising a new expert, I think that all expert who are belonged to the society have a duty of delivering their knowledge to the society.

  10. Geoffrey T.
    November 15, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    Mr. Drerup gave a very inspiring and interesting talk about engineers as experts. He mentioned in his presentation that as a forensic engineer, we were the finder of facts. I like it when Mr. Drerup described forensic engineers as a scientist, peer, and educator. He mentioned that working as a forensic engineer, we formed our hypotheses and test them using scientific method. I remembered that in my last internship, my supervisor also instill this idea within me. On how to find facts from the web and how to separate them between facts and opinions.

    Mr. Drerup solidified his lecture by using a lot of case studies. One of the case studies that he brought up in class was the failure of retaining wall. With the use of pictures and animation, he explained how the retaining wall failed due to the improper mix of concrete. As the old sayings once said, “Pictures speak a thousand words”, and through Mr. Drerup’s talk, I definitely see that point clearly. Graphics help in court because they help the non-engineer and judge to understand the cause of failure, without the need of excessive technical terms. As Mr. Drerup said in the lecture, the key is to condense the materials, so that non-engineers can understand the case, without omitting any facts.

    In close, I enjoyed Mr. Drerup’s talk and his enthusiasm in forensic engineering. I am sure that his talk is very informative and inspiring to everyone else in the class.

    • EllenW
      November 17, 2017 at 1:30 am #


      I also found the case studies to help explain the duties and processes of a forensic engineer in actual cases. The use of graphics are used to explain the case, and you are correct in saying that a “Picture is worth a thousand words” because, in the case of the animation of the retaining wall, the complex causes of the extensive cracking and bulging of the wall were shown in a very simple, easy to understand manner.

  11. Richard T.
    November 15, 2017 at 4:39 pm #

    Learning about the engineer being the expert is a very interesting subject that we don’t talk about in academia. I found that today’s lecture opened a new view on things for me. It showed that there were other ways to use an engineering degree then to just design infrastructure.

    An important topic that was brought up during the lecture was the engineer’s role and duty during the investigation. The fact that the engineer doesn’t judge or make decisions favoring one side or the other and that the truth is the most valuable goal of that engineer. One question that was brought up was: can the engineer present evidence that favors one side over the other? That’s a tough answer. On one side your client is paying you to figure out if they are at fault. Which in a way is already biased because it involves your compensation. The answer was ‘sure you can present information that is weighted to one side’, but that information can’t stray away from the truth. You can see it as whoever is opposing your client will also have an expert and they will choose to present information that favors their client. The picture must be painted equally. Therefore, if the other side is going to favor their client then if you do so as well it will balance things out.

    Another interesting thing that I liked about the presentation was the practical testing of the parking structure. As designers we often don’t see the loading on our buildings. It’s usually something that we speculate or calculate and we put that in our design criteria. To see the water filled bags on top of the parking structure made me realize what I was actually designing for. It’s nice to know that some structures undergo practical testing to get a safety rating. I think that most important structures should undergo the same testing before allowing the public to access it. It’s going to be expensive but safety is number one.

    • Nick S.
      November 16, 2017 at 8:48 am #


      I agree with you in saying how that is a really tough question to answer. But I would agree with Mr. Drerup statement that you can present information that is weighted to one side, but that information cannot alter the truth. This goes back to the whole engineering ethics that we are expected to abide by. It is my belief that you should always use good engineering judgment, as well as proper ethics in everything you do. The choices you make are the ones people will hold you to and when you get the image that you have a shady character it will have an affect on how people trust you. Overall, everyone’s ethics will be different and people have to make decisions for themselves, but it will be those decision that will define you.

  12. EllenW
    November 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm #

    Mr. Drerup presented to the class about engineers acting as expert witnesses in litigation failure cases. The presentation was interesting to me because Mr. Drerup explained what an expert witness should and should not be. An expert witness should educate the jury about the facts of the case so they can understand the engineering mechanisms that are at work in the case. They must take the true facts of the case and hypothesize on what happened, then test and verify the theory so that the cause can be determined. The expert witness should not act as the judge controlling the case or as a lawyer. They must also not act as the jury to decide who is at fault in the case. Their job is to explain the facts of the case clearly so the jury, typically without any engineering knowledge, can understand what happened.
    I also found it interesting that videos and graphics are used to explain the failure methods and processes to the judge and jury. The examples shown in the presentation were very clear and detailed 3D videos of the conditions and then went through the processes at work to explain the failure. These visuals simplify the material to a level where non-engineers can understand, but do not compromise any of the facts of the case. Think it would be difficult to maintain the balance of the actual facts and the comprehension of difficult concepts, so these graphics remove some of confusion.
    Thank you Mr. Drerup for coming to speak to the class.

    • Pete Pitilis Jr.
      November 16, 2017 at 12:39 pm #


      I agree, it was very interesting to hear Mr. Drerup explain the importance of educating a jury on the facts of a case and the methods of presenting those facts. The videos and graphics I thought were especially interesting seeing how they walked you through the failure from beginning to end. As you mentioned, this process is important when portraying a case to non-engineers. I’d like to learn more about the software(s) used to create the videos and graphics as it could prove to be beneficial at some point in our careers.

  13. David K
    November 14, 2017 at 10:03 pm #

    During his presentation, Mr. Drerup spoke about an engineer’s purpose as it pertains to a structural forensics investigation/case. It is important that an engineer knows his or her place in a legal case such that they do not overstep their realm of expertise. An engineer is brought on-board a legal case as an expert that is able to relay information to non-technical entities involved in the case. Mr. Drerup mentioned that the more an engineer is involved in legal cases, the more knowledge they gain of the law side of the case. It can sometimes be difficult not to attempt to provide the attorneys with legal advice being that this action would be a clear example of overstepping duties.

    During legal cases, it is extremely important to portray technical information to non-technical audiences such as attorneys, jury members, and judges. Mr. Drerup showed examples of effective ways of doing this such as creating a simple animation that summarizes all findings without being partial to one side of the case or the other. Making informed predictions can also be a useful tool in presenting technical information in a summarized manner.

    • mdre
      November 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

      Thanks for your comments. While doing failure investigation and expert witness work, our role is often defined in ways that are quite different from working in a design environment. A key consideration: In many cases it’s entirely acceptable to have a scope of work defined to answer a narrowly defined question, or set of questions. It’s important, however that our work not be defined or “cherry-picked” to support a predetermined conclusion.

      When presenting findings, whether through a report, visual aids, and/or testimony, the intention is to demonstrate our findings and opinions by presenting them in the context of the evidence and work that supports them.

  14. benp
    November 14, 2017 at 4:19 pm #

    Mr. Drerup gave a presentation today about engineers as expert witnesses. Mr. Drerup has a long resume that covers many different areas of engineering. I believe this has helped him be successful in the expert witness field. When an expert gets on the stand or goes into depositions, there is no telling what questions the opposing side may have. To combat these questions must take experience and the ability to make a judge or jury trust what you say. A good resume has to help with this.

    One case study that he showed today was a parking deck at a Macy’s. They load tested it with water to prove that it could hold the amount of loading that code calls for. On the underside of it, they built a temporary structure in case it started to collapse. I wonder just how much this operation costed, the temporary shoring looked very elaborate. The parking deck did hold the amount needed to meet code, so I am sure whatever money the property owner spent on the testing was well worth it as it must have saved them from costly strengthening renovations.

    • mdrerup
      November 15, 2017 at 11:28 am #

      Thanks for your comments and question. Total cost of the load test was roughly one million dollars, representing a combination of equipment rental, contractor support, and consulting fees. Approximately 100 structural elements and connections were tested simultaneously. This offered several advantages, including:

      – As you mentioned, by passing the load test, the need for extensive strengthening was significantly reduced. You may recall that other areas of this large structure were retrofitted because they were determined to require strengthening with out testing.

      – There’s an old story (possibly apocryphal) about establishing public confidence in a new bridge by marching elephants across it. The garage test was highly visible to local residents and passersby, and provided a similarly visceral feel for the strength of the structure. While proper design and execution of the test required a great deal of specialized knowledge, analysis, and experience, its essence and importance could be easily understood by a non-technical audience.

  15. Nick S.
    November 14, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

    On Tuesday, November 14th, the AE 537 Building Failures class had the pleasure to hear a presentation by Mr. Michael J. Drerup, P.E. Mr. Drerup was a graduate from the Civil Engineering (CE) program at Maryland. Currently, Mr. Pirro. runs his own firm, Drerup Building Performance Engineering, PLLC, where they perform building forensics for clients when their buildings fail.

    During Mr. Drerup time with our class he gave a presentation about “Engineers as the Expert Witness”. The presentation began by the roles and limitations of the expert, followed by several case studies, and ended with investigation and communication. Mr. Drerup started off the roles and limitations section by stating an expert is a scientist, peer, and educator. They are trying to solve what the problem is, who is at fault, and communicate the information properly to all parties. He went on to add that experts are not the judge, jury, or lawyer. The second part of the presentation was walking through various case studies and the case study that really struck me was the turf and field retaining wall failure. I found this extremely interesting because of how they came about to understand and resolve the failure. They did this through the use of technology, understanding the material used, and why it failed. The final part of the presentation was a brief discussion on the technical assessment, standard of care, and testimony.

    In conclusion, I thought it was an interesting discussion that provided additional insight into engineering forensics. However, the part that I found the most memorable was what I’m going to call are the five (5) stages of forensics. They are as follows; verify, diagnose, predict, compare, and study. Mr. Drerup explained that these five criteria are the process of performing a forensic investigations on a building failure. To me, these five phase can be used for more than just engineering forensics. They could be used in almost any situation where an issue arises and a conclusion needs to be found. This thought process could be due to the fact that I am an engineer and we tend following a particular way of doing things where order helps us to achieve our goal. Also from these five criteria Mr. Drerup stated, reminded me of a quote that a fellow employee said about what can make you a better project manager. The quote reads, “Trust but Verify”. What does this mean? To me it states that you should trust that your subs or any individual will do the correct thing, but you should verify for yourself that it is the correct. Overall, these are two pieces knowledge from industry members that I can take with me to help grow my understanding and my career.

    • mdrerup
      November 15, 2017 at 11:48 am #

      Thanks for your comments and feedback. For me the five criteria for a test program help me stay centered. On several occasions I’ve seen testing specified for its own sake. Several years ago during an initial discussion with an attorney, they essentially said – “The other side has done lab testing, so we need to do lab testing”. My colleagues and I studied the testing done by others, assessed its technical merits, and developed a narrowly-defined protocol that would answer key technical questions pertinent to the case but not yet addressed by others.

      Our client then faced a decision – if we executed the test program, there was no guarantee that the findings would be helpful to there client, although it appeared more likely than not that they would be helpful. We got the job with a clear up-front understanding that we would run a scientifically sound test program designed to test a set of hypothesis (answer questions of interest in the case).

      You’ll notice that my five criteria to justify a test program don’t include “because my client told me to”, but this can be a useful conversation starter that leads to a program that is both scientifically robust and useful to our client.

      Regarding “trust but verify”, I’m going to turn the phrase a bit: If we do sound, verifiable engineering and scientific work, our clients, peers, and triers of fact (judge/jury) are much more likely to properly trust us.

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