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Weak Rivets of Titanic, Weak Steel Bearing Walls of WTC, Weak Levees of New Orleans- Weak Gussets of I-35W Bridge= 6000 deaths

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To: Structural Engineers Association International Members
From: Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl
Date: April 15, 2008
Subject: Weak Rivets of Titanic, Weak Steel Bearing Walls of WTC, Weak Levees of New Orleans- Weak Gussets of I-35W Bridge= 6000 deaths

Dear SEAINT friends:

Yesterday's New York Times reported that the original documents from the time of construction of the Titanic shows that the engineers used sub-standard iron rivets in the construction since sound steel rivets were hard to get ( Then I found the following e-mail in my inbox from a dear friend who is a scientist and faculty member in Division of Epidemiology of a prestigious university in Midwest:
Mike wwxxyy wrote (referring to NY Times story on Titanic Rivets being weak):
Once again, builders were cutting corners for short-term gain at the expense of safety. This kind of short-sightedness is one of the great problems of humanity and I don't see an easy solution. Failure to act on the threat of global warming is another example of this kind of problem. A key aspect to this is that the people who suffer most when the short-sighted plan unravels are not the people who did the planning. I don't think the shipbuilders were on the Titanic when it sank, nor were the architects in the WTC when it collapsed, and if/when global warming becomes massively destructive, we'll all be gone by then. We at least need to stop pretending that we can trust builders and designers and we should have a second competing team critique their work. That could help, but then the politicians who choose the builder also want to save money and are thereby doubly motivated to argue against paying for such a critique. --Mike
In my working on several very public projects, starting with the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge in 1989 on to my present I-35W and Mac Arthur projects, I have heard over and over the frustration and horror of many non-engineers upon coming across the lack of respect for human life and public safety on the part of some engineers and the presence of what I have termed as "moral corruption" on the part of again some engineers who protect the faulty performance of their fellow engineers at the expense of public safety. I may have said this before, but, since it is so dear to me I will repeat again. A dear friend of mine in the business school here with whom I work at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley, after the the Katrina disaster told me that "you engineers think that the planet earth is un-inhabited!" . Initially I kind of reacted trying to defend ourselves, but, then after looking back to my exposure to and involvement in investigating disasters for about 40 years now, and specially resent performance of engineers in the case of design of new East Spans of the Bay Bridge by Caltrans and private sector consultants and contractors, Investigation of the collapse of the Murrah Building, WTC towers and New Orleans Levees by the ASCE Building Performance Assessment Teams, the collapse and reconstruction of the Mac Arthur Maze by Caltarns and private sector contractors and consultants ( and now the case of I-35W tragic collapse and its investigation by NTSB and private sector consultants, I have concluded that she is absolutely right and engineers, at least most, think that planet earth is un-inhabited!. If you do not agree with me let us see how many times when designing a structure, a member or a connection, it has crossed your mind what happens if this structural element that I am designing fails and how many people will get killed or injured? You may have taught of losing your job, losing your license, losing your reputation, but very few of us think of consequences of our design in term of immediate and direct loss of lives of loved ones of someone else.

You know, the downward arrow that you put on that beam and write next to it say "LL=45 kips" actually means the weight of 300 human beings right there and if that beam fails, hundreds can get killed or injured. Don't you think it is time for us , specially in structural engineering, to accept that not only the planet earth is inhabited but the inhabitants of this planet live and work in our structures trusting that our foremost priority is their safety. Please do not tell me that of course in structural engineering we put safety first, may be most of us do, but, some do not and those of us who do have a responsibility and duty to make sure those few irresponsible individuals are filtered out of these great professions of civil engineering and structural engineering. The starting point can be this case of the ASCE's investigations of the Katrina catastrophe and the WTC towers collapse (

It is up to all of us to save the reputation of our profession and clean up our professional organizations of "morally corrupt" officials and members so that the public can trust us again as the dedicated civil engineering and structural engineering professionals who are truly dedicated to public safety and not to protecting their fellow engineers and friends at the expense of public safety.

Please remember the saying that: you can fool some people forever and you can fool everyone for sometime but you cannot fool everyone forever!
Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, Ph.D., P.E.
Professor and Consultant on
Structural Engineering, Earthquake Engineering and
Protection of Buildings and Bridges against Blast and Impact.


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