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By Kenneth L Carper

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In the past decade a new source of failure has surfaced — the problem of domestic terrorism and intentional sabotage. 9 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1995. An intentional act of domestic terrorism claimed 168 lives. (Courtesy of W. ) disheartening to those who design, build, and manufacture projects. 9). Still, there are lessons to be learned from even these incredible events, and forensic engineers are contributing to the task. A forensic investigation of the damaged Oklahoma City building led to several technical and planning recommendations that can reduce the damage in similar events in the future [Corley, Sozen, Thornton and Mlakar 1998].

Failures at the leading edge of technology have always been accompanied by periods of societal self-examination. Failures of symbolic works are especially vulnerable to questions that extend beyond the technical issues. The successive failures of the tower at the cathedral at Beauvais, France created theological as well as technological questions [FitzSimons 1986]. Similarly, the response to the Challenger space shuttle accident of 1986 involved questions and concerns far beyond the technical causes of the failure.

Collection of failure and accident information can be used to support product recall efforts or to convince manufacturers to make necessary modifications to mass-produced products. Such modifications may affect a large number of similar products, having a significant immediate impact on public safety. A building or civil structure is quite different. It is not a manufactured product. The design process involves a number of engineering disciplines and the result is a single, unique site-specific project.

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