As structural engineers, many of our projects are focused on assisting with new construction – buildings being designed and built from the ground up. There is another side to the job though. Structural engineers are also called in to evaluate a building after it has been damaged.

When Grenfell Tower caught fire in London last week, it led to the devastating loss of life and gained international attention. The city of London is now investigating why the fire happened and what needs to change. Part of the aftermath of this tragedy also involves structural engineers who have come in to evaluate the safety and stability of what remains.

“Our job in these situations is to go in and determine whether the materials remaining can be reused, strengthened, or if we need to rebuild entirely,” said Tom McLaughlin, Director of Engineering at Engineering Solutions in Charlottesville. “Different materials behave differently after fire, so it depends on whether it’s steel, wood, concrete – every project varies.”

The team at Engineering Solutions has experience with fire damage projects in Central Virginia. Brian Koerner, owner of Engineering Solutions, and Tom have also evaluated buildings following natural disasters in Haiti, Nepal, and Ecuador.

Having witnessed the destruction and loss of life that occurs following a natural disaster, one might think our engineers would tend to over-design their structures. However, we strive not to make this the case. We understand there are often a variety of materials, detailing, and products that can be used for the same structures. Our job as structural engineers is to strike the balance between safety and cost. To do this successfully, communication is key.

“We need to communicate early on and throughout the design process,” Tom said. “That’s the only way to ensure we strike the balance of safety and cost. Communication with other project partners is key to making sure we find a way to balance the different demands.”

We are on the phone or on-site throughout our projects to coordinate with construction companies and architects. Two of our core values – innovate and communicate – are imperative to finding the right solution for everyone while making sure the structure is safe and economical.

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