Title: Forensic engineering investigations of disasters: going 'beyond the widget'

Authors: Vincent M. Brannigan

Addresses: Professor Emeritus, Department of Fire Protection Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA; Correspondence address: 4309 Rosedale Ave, Bethesda, MD 20814, USA

Abstract: Forensic engineering is the use of engineering knowledge and techniques to create evidence for the legal system. Both litigation and regulatory systems use engineering evidence in making legal decisions. Forensic engineering plays a key role in investigating disaster scenarios. But commentators have described the investigatory focus on trivial proximate causes as the 'Widget' approach, where the failure analysis is designed to focus on a specific component and limits the analysis to the smallest unit possible. Recent forensic engineering investigations of disasters at Buncefield (UK) and Texas City (USA) show substantial difference between effective investigations and those which will retard rather than advance society's ability to deal with hazards.

Keywords: forensic engineering; Buncefield; Texas City; Titanic; regulations; engineering innovation; root cause; disaster investigations; widget approach; Challenger; Baker report; proximate cause; causation; failure analysis; engineering knowledge; engineering techniques legal systems.

DOI: 10.1504/IJFE.2012.047448

International Journal of Forensic Engineering, 2012 Vol.1 No.1, pp.78 - 95

Published online: 29 Nov 2014 *

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