The Champlain towers condominium collapsed at 2 am on Thursday morning. How could a 12 story ocean front condo collapse in the middle of the night? The truth is, we don’t know yet. We will find out what went bad. We will find out who failed to notice a crack in a piling, who failed to authorize a repair, who failed to conduct a thorough inspection, who failed the residents of Champlain towers.
This tragedy is just one of the several building collapses across the United States in the last 50 years. In most cases, such collapses are a result of an engineering mistake, a construction defect, or an inspection mistake.
Sound building practices and regular inspections are supposed to ward off such tragedies. Engineering experts are suggesting a number of reasons for the collapse. Some of them include:
- Saltwater corroding the concrete and weakening beams that hold up the structure. When saltwater seeps into porous concrete, it causes reinforced steel rods in the support beans to rust and expand.
- The Champlain tower building sunk at a slightly faster rate than other neighboring buildings, a process known as subsidence.
- Some experts even suggest that work on the roof had started 6 weeks back and roofing material generally tends to be heavy
In Florida, buildings are required to be re-certified every 40 years. These inspections are designed to protect people from possible building failures.
Building owners and property managers should consult with structural engineers to have a proper inspection completed as their building nears 40 years of age. When it comes time for a 40-year property assessment, the property owner will receive a notice that an inspection is due. At that point, the property owner will have 90 days to find a structural engineer to complete an inspection of the building and submit a report to either the city or the county. The report will indicate what parts of the building (if any) need to be repaired or replaced. The property owner will then have another 180 days to complete the necessary repair work. Following the completed repairs, the structural engineer will then prepare another report verifying that the initial findings have been remedied.
Buildings on or near the ocean, like Champlain Towers, are especially vulnerable because they are constantly exposed to the increased effects of saltwater oxidation and corrosion, as well as minor concrete and masonry cracks. Stucco left exposed to the elements can cause rebar to expand up to seven times its original size, exerting a force of 10,000 pounds per square-inch (PSI). This condition—commonly referred to as spalling—can necessitate extremely expensive concrete restoration. Of course, if left untreated, it can cause a total structural collapse.
There will certainly be a call for an improvement in the inspection process, and moving up the timeline for recertification from 40 years following this tragedy.
Incredibly enough, The Recertification process of the Champlain towers condominium was underway. We are all awaiting to see the engineer’s report.
The Rescue Process.
After a building collapses, search and rescue teams are called to look for survivors . The National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Response system was established under the authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1989. The task force is equipped and ready to be deployed within 6 hours.
Capabilities of the task force.
The task force is capable of carrying out the following tasks:
- Physical search and rescue operations in damaged/ collapsed structures.
- Emergency medical care for entrapped survivors and rescue workers.
- Shutting off utilities in neighboring buildings and houses to avoid further damage.
- Survey and evaluation of hazardous materials.
- Structural evaluation of the damaged or collapsed structure.
When looking for possible survivors, rescuers use devices that help detect breathing, heartbeat, and body heat from under the rubble. Heavy construction equipment may be used to sift through rubble. This has been gut wrenching to watch. Rains have delayed the search and rescue as family members wait, watch, and hope.
TIPS HOW TO SURVIVE/ESCAPE A COLLAPSING BUILDING IN WAKE OF THE CHAMPLAIN TOWERS CONDO DISASTER.
Some of the tips and skills that could improve your chances of survival in a building collapse include:
Prepare a emergency kit.
The key to surviving a building collapse is having some important supplies on hand. Create a survival kit at home or in your workplace. Items that you should need in your survival kit include:
- At least one gallon of water.
- Non-perishable food.
- Spare batteries.
- Cell phone.
- First-aid kit.
- Fire extinguisher.
- Duct tape.
- Pieces of cloth.
- Hygiene supplies.
Avoid the elevator.
Head for the nearest exit. Elevators are the worst places to be in collapsed buildings.
Don’t lose your calm. Staying calm helps you to analyze the situation better. Staying calm also keeps your heart rate low.
Look for cover.
One of the biggest dangers while being trapped in a collapsed building is falling debris. Look for some sturdy furniture to curl up beside. Furniture helps to deflect the falling debris to some extent. Rescuers refer to the space beside good sturdy furniture as the triangle of life.
If fire breaks out.
Fires in collapsing building are a major hazard. Avoid locations where there are great deal of plastic or metal moldings which create toxic fumes. Place a wet cloth on your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling toxic fumes.
Words cannot express the sadness we feel for the families that lost loved ones in this tragedy. Since the date we started this blog, we have covered many topics. Some sad, some funny, some tragic, and some positive. As injury lawyers we are accustomed to “things gone bad”. People seek our help during what is possibly the worst time in their lives and we find out what went bad. Our motto is, “its not business, it’s personal”. During these periods of hardship we form an unbreakable bond with our clients and help anyway we can. Sometimes that involves just listening to how they feel, other times it is helping with a small task. Yet, during all my years practing law and seeing many “things gone bad”, I have never felt as helpless as I do now. Parents and loved ones were awaken with a middle of the night phone call and told to travel to Surfside from near and far. The loved ones traveled to Surfside hoping for a miracle. Hoping that somehow their loved ones were Ok. Instead, they sit and wait, waiting and hoping for a miracle under the piles of rubble.
Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 30 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for many years.