Engineers say valuable lessons could be learned from the Hard Rock Hotel construction collapse

Updated: Oct. 24, 2019 at 9:47 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As the tattered Hard Rock Hotel construction site sits along Canal Street, the professional engineering community, both locally and nationally, is eager to learn what caused the deadly incident.

Professional engineer, Norma Jean Mattei, PhD, is a past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Although she has had no involvement with the Hard Rock Hotel project, Mattei said getting to the bottom of what caused the collapse of the construction site is critical.

"I think it will take a lot of thought, a lot of analysis because so many different things could have gone wrong. Engineers and those in construction have things that were put in place to ensure public safety, but in the case of an accident, or omission that may have started that initial failure, because I don't think we're talking about a single failure. I think we're talking about an initial failure that was impacted by subsequent cascading failures,” said Mattei.

Mattei added that what happened to the physical structure is not a small occurrence.

“Yes, I do think that this was very significant. We don’t see failures of this type, thank God, often.”

Three people were killed when the collapse happened on Oct. 12. Soon after, the city said an inspection had been done at the site in September and there were no red flags associated with the inspection.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s administration said because the investigation is ongoing it could not comment on the nature of inspections conducted by the city, or other details about city oversight.

Engineers say learning what happened at the hotel construction site will prove valuable in numerous ways.

"All engineers would be very interested in the reasons why, so that once that technical report comes out, we can adjust standards and processes and procedures accordingly if they need to be, to make sure this doesn't happen again,” said Mattei.

According to the city’s website, construction is regulated in accordance with the International Building Code. IBC establishes uniform standards for the construction of buildings.

Mattei says uniformity in standards is beneficial.

"You’ve got building codes that are legally required, so that would be the parish of Orleans and it would also be the state Fire Marshal’s code. Those are wrapped around permitting, but also provide the rules that you will use in designing and constructing structures within that jurisdiction’s boundaries,” said Mattei. “So, they are legal requirements within the city of New Orleans or the Orleans Parish building code, it refers to the International Building Code.”

A lot of different materials go into construction projects and Mattei says there are standards for them, too.

"Take concrete for example, concrete has requirements… steel has the same thing,” said Mattei.

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