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The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore is a tragedy. The entire NCSEA community sends our thoughts to the families, friends, first responders, and citizens impacted by this event.

Structural engineers spend a considerable amount of time analyzing the probability of potential events and design structures to provide reliable performance against hazards defined in applicable codes and standards. When the bridge was constructed in the 1970s, the impact force from a vessel the size of what struck the bridge was likely not envisioned as a potential threat. While it may not be possible to design and build a structure to successfully resist every future hazard or threat especially those that may not be envisioned at the time, structural engineers take these tragic events to heart as they work to identify what has happened and what improvements can be made.

Our profession takes multiple steps to learn and make appropriate enhancements to codes and standards when incidents like this occur. There are steps that can be taken in the future, both operational and structural, to reduce the likelihood of these incidents. On the operational side, this incident provides motivation to strengthen processes, safeguards, and redundancies with the goal of increasing reliability of operations as ships travel under bridges. On the structural engineering side, this incident provides motivation to review requirements within codes and standards for design of new bridges as well as review options for retrofitting our most at-risk bridges to strengthen the integrity of the existing structural components and consider installation of protective components.

Ultimately, the goal of structural engineers is to identify vulnerabilities and make appropriate enhancements to match the requirements for today’s shipping fleet. Codes, design standards, and hazards evolve over time, and it is our obligation to identify and respond to them, as well as to anticipate future trends.

While these incidents are thankfully rare, it is incumbent upon the structural engineering profession to understand what occurred and create systemic solutions to strengthen the integrity and reliability of all structures.


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